Film Review: The 34th at BFI Flare

Ireland has been a fairly cold, distant place for gay people for too long. It was only three years ago that the country had passed marriage equality through public vote, under the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution. An inspiring documentary about the history of LGBTQ rights, The 34th sensibly depicts the long road to marriage equality in the Irish state, as well as the touching love story between politician Katherine Zappone and theologian Ann Louise Gilligan. Bold and consistently reaffirming the importance of perseverance in social justice, the footage is a must-see historical archive from this year’s BFI Flare Film Festival.

The 34th

Zappone and Gilligan knew they were made for each other the moment they met. Although their emotional love story would have made for a fascinating film on its own, their laborious struggle to become recognised as a married couple in their native country is enough to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat for this documentary’s lengthy, but enthralling ninety minutes. The film is centered on the relentless couple’s battle against the State and the Revenue Commissioners, widely-known as the KAL case (one of the first to open up the discussion on equal marriage rights), as well as the journey to the legalisation of same-sex union, approved at a referendum on 22 May 2015.

Linda Cullen and Vanessa Gildea give all of their wit, sweat and toil to recreate the chilling, vehement atmosphere following Ireland’s renowned referendum. The two directors piece together various perspectives, from pro-LGTB individuals and queer icons to spokespersons opposing same-sex marriage and adoption rights. The viewer (for better or for worse) undoubtedly witnesses a wide array of attitudes and prospects on the legality of romantic affection and the topic of who is “allowed” to love. Daring in its vision and political at times, The 34th is quite impressive from a factual point of view. Its archive footage is invaluable to anyone interested in the seemingly interminable, arduous road to equality, its key-figures offer insight after insight during interviews, and its candid, ardent focus on the women of the story is a doting delight to anyone who has ever experienced love at first sight.

The documentary seems to be more a tribute to tenacity than anything else – the lengths to which each of the activists portrayed in the film have gone to is at times inconceivable. Even in the face of hopelessness and what appeared to be unobtainable justice, this group of earnest, brave and caring individuals pushes through and manages to accomplish what many would consider impossible. The speech nearing the end of the film, from the 2013’s Constitutional Convention, is nothing short of pure elation. The bona fide manner through which Condor Pendergrast and Clare O’Connell (two now-adults who are children of and were raised by same-sex couples) speak, their genuine, overwhelmingly peaceful smiles, and the charming, expressive way through which they share their heartwarming stories are undoubtedly the documentary’s highlight.

The 34th is a unique and masterful ensemble of some of Ireland’s most fearless and influential gay rights activists and their bumpy road towards marriage equality in a state that is generally viewed as socially conservative. Featuring eye-opening archived footage, engaging discussions with the faces of LGBT in Ireland and a memorable portrayal of zesty, enduring love, Cullen and Gildea’s documentary will inevitably make you question what can truly be defined as impossible where there is strong will and desire.

3 stars

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All pictures reproduced courtesy of COCO Television

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Alexander Ryll
Launched in June 2014, Gay Essential is the world’s largest gay themed film blog promoting new and rare features. I am helped by some amazing writers and we also cover film festivals in the UK and USA. We are 100% independent, without advertising or funding by film distributors. Help to keep Gay Essential independent by purchasing our merchandise GET (Gay Essential Tees)
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