Brought to life with the dreamlike shadings of a love poem, “Brooklyn” unfolds in two distinctly atmospheric worlds: one amid the cloistered, muted beauty of Enniscorthy, Ireland and the other in the bustling chaos of New York’s Brooklyn, the frequent first stop of many immigrants to America, starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson who make up the film’s love triangle.
The entirety of “Brooklyn” builds to the life-altering decisions Eilis (Ronan) must make: between Tony (Cohen) and Jim (Gleeson), between Brooklyn and Ireland, between her past and what she wants for her future. Everyone involved knew from the start that the story hinged on the uncertainty of her ultimate choice.
Helping to recreate the era in the minds of actors were the beautiful clothes sourced and created by Odile Dicks-Mireaux to evoke the inimitable elegance and grace of 1950s New York. She was thrilled to step back into that era. “It was a complete pleasure to work with these characters,” says Dicks-Mireaux, “and there was so much craftsmanship and invention in the 1950s period.”
The early era of street photography, especially work by the mysterious Vivian Maier and iconic New York shooter Elliott Erwitt, inspired Dicks-Mireaux with their candid shots of transient city moments. However, she avoided even glancing at the couture of the era.
“John’s specific edict was to not look at any fashion magazines because this is a story of real people – of working class girls trying to make their living in New York,” she explains. “In every aspect of the film, John wanted the look to be very natural and real.”
Dicks-Mireaux especially enjoyed contrasting fashionable Brooklyn, of which Eilis is soon a part, with the more austere dress of Enniscorthy. “There was a huge difference between America and Ireland in those post-war years,” she explains. “The styles could not have been more distinct which is perfect for the story we’re telling. In America it was a time of rich color – reds, caramels and yellow ochres, pinks and pale colors – that just did not exist then in Ireland.”
An equal contributor to the film’s transporting atmosphere is the music, led by an aching score from Michael Brook (Into The Wild, The Fighter). There is also a transcendent musical moment — when Eilis volunteers to serve Christmas lunch to downtrodden Irish immigrants, only to be enraptured by one homesick man’s stirring Irish lament.
Colm Tóibín told Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey that the unique voice of Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird had been a particular inspiration to him while writing that scene. Inspired themselves, they approached Ó Lionáird and were delighted to be able to bring him to Montreal to perform “Casadh an Tsúgáin” live on the set.
Ó Lionáird fully understood why it would impact Eilis so deeply. “It’s a love song, in which the repeating chorus talks about a man asking the woman to define in what way she’s connected to him,” he explains. “That resonates for Eilis, in that she’s connected to two worlds. In the song, the man is asking the woman ‘if you’re with me, you’re with me’ and he says ‘be with me in front of everybody, show everybody, be clear.’ She has to step into her own future and to decide what that is.”
Ronan was as moved as Eilis is during the scene. “Through this incredible voice, Iarla was able to communicate every emotion that you go through when you’re away from home,” she says.
“Brooklyn” opens today, January 27 exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas (Trinoma, Alabang Town Center, Greenbelt3, Market!Market!, Fairview Terraces) from 20th Century Fox distributed by Warner Bros.