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Crest, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Ireland is beautiful, cultural, maybe not a surfers' haven."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2017: Surfing footage and shots of the Irish countryside are things that seldom fail to impress on screen, and "The Crest" doesn't really let down when that's what the camera is pointed at. Knowing that they were going to be starting from there, the makers of the movie must have felt that they were in good shape early on, but documentaries are risky endeavors by their nature. Eventually, the interesting idea and nice-looking footage need an actual movie to form around them, and this one maybe doesn't come up with enough material.

It has a neat hook: Two Americans living on opposite sides of the country - Cape Cod surfer Andrew Jacob and Dennis "DK" Kane, who builds custom boards in San DIego - are both descendants of Pádraig Ó Catháin, aka "An Rí", who was King of Ireland's Blasket Islands around the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The cousins have never met, but after learning about each other they decide to take part in a family reunion and journey to their ancestral home to surf the waves near the now-abandoned islands off the coast of Dingle. Should be fun!

And it is, sure, but there just doesn't wind up being a feature-length movie there. Andrew and DK are nice guys, folks most people would enjoy hanging around with, and perhaps too loose and too similar to each other to have especially interesting points of view on what they're learning. They're pleasant and friendly but we seldom see them doing much more than passively observing each other and Ireland, and there's not the sort of on-screen chemistry that makes a great movie. They're good dudes but not great characters, and when the surfing tale director Mark Christopher Covino hangs the film on doesn't amount to much, there's not any sort of a backup plan.

It's pleasant enough, but no narrative develops, and the filmmakers reach for general history of the Blaskets and an interesting story about a long-lost fiddle that An RĂ­'s son "Mike the Fiddler" left behind in a pub's attic during his last visit to Dingle that, like the obligatory focus on the last of the great Blasket writer, seems a bit tacked on to the intended narrative. It sometimes seems as if Cavino (who also edits), has wound up close enough to the material that he forgets what an audience may or may not know coming in. Viewers are left to puzzle out that, though An RĂ­ is referred to as "King", this wasn't actually a hereditary title, but more of an assumed position. There's also a scene where it seems like a local is being a real weirdo teasing Andrew the he needs to get someone knocked up rather than offering congratulations because if his pregnant girlfriend had been shown, she didn't make much of an impression, and it's again something that doesn't click into place until later.

That material that usually pleases on screen still pleases here, of course. There doesn't wind up being a whole lot of surfing in the movie, although there's a likable honesty in watching Covino and the guys try to squeeze blood from a stone when the waves just don't come, but when the film is able to organically expand its view, there's a warmth to it worth noting. The customary narrative of the Irish who come to America and return generations later still a part of the place is enhanced by how the Irish community in question is a lost kingdom. The brief time on Great Blasket Island are enjoyably melancholy as they emphasize how, despite often being visible from the shore, this community was nevertheless isolated and able to remain unique for a long time.

It's the sort of setting that becomes more fascinating as those who called it home disappear, and "The Crest" manage to whet one's curiosity. "Surfing cousins meeting for the first time" just didn't turn out to be the angle that makes it into a great story, something that occasionally happens when one sets out to make a movie without a script.

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originally posted: 05/19/17 12:23:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2017 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2017 series, click here.

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