The Ballad of Des and Mo

This entry is part 21 of 30 in the series Raindance 2011

Released: 2010
Director: James Fair

Starring: Michael F Cahill, Kate O’Toole


A brilliantly funny film – made in just 72 hours

One of the great things about attending Raindance this year has been the opportunity to interact with a number of film-makers.  Interviews and Q&A sessions with directors offer new perspectives on the films and help to create a deeper understanding of the effort that went into making the movies that we watch.  This was never as relevant or as interesting as for The Ballad of Des and Mo.

The feature film was shown immediately following a documentary, I’ve Got This Idea For A Movie, which charted the making of James Fair’s film, a process which took 72 hours.  Yes, you read that right.  From the start of shooting to the world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival The Ballad of Des and Mo took just three days to produce.  Watching the documentary and hearing from director James Fair and post-production manager Mike Fisher made the experience of watching the film completely different to going into it cold.

So the question for me as a reviewer is do I judge it merely on the merits of the film placed in front of the audience or take all of the background knowledge into account?  Thankfully the finished product is a cracker so there’s no need to make many allowances for the film’s limitations, instead I can celebrate the fantastic achievement of Fair, Fisher and the rest of the team.

The Ballad of Des and Mo is a comedy about a middle-aged Irish couple arriving in Melbourne for a second honeymoon to celebrate their 25 years of marriage.  Unfortunately, while they arrive their luggage does not.  Things get worse for the couple as a cash machine swallows their only card, Des is arrested and Mo has to pawn her wedding ring.

The performances by Michael F Cahill and Kate O’Toole are brilliant.  Des is both amiable and infuriating while my heart went out to poor Mo who desperately tried to keep everything together.  The supporting cast varies from excellent – especially Don Bridges as Mike – to appalling.  This is probably one of the times to make an allowance for the limited shooting time – there are a couple of scenes which should have been filmed again to elicit better performances.

The script is fantastic and laugh out loud funny despite the increasing struggles for poor Des and Mo.  Among the many stand-out moments is the scene which led me to cheer and clap in a cinema for the first time ever during a film.  A brilliant moment which alone made the film worth seeing.  But it wasn’t the only one, the film was full of superb moments.

My only complaint about the script would be the lack of realism in the hand luggage that Des and Mo take onto the plane.  I can’t get from Surrey to London for a day without a rucksack full of stuff, yet Des and Mo travel 10,000 miles from Ireland to Australia with just a tiny handbag and a bum bag between them.  I know the narrative was driven by the lost luggage but several times I found myself asking how they managed such a long journey with so few possessions.

The music complemented the action perfectly, particularly the song playing over the opening credits – a strange and funny piece which tells us immediately that this isn’t an everyday love story.

James Fair was asked if a film made in just 72 hours could really count as a cinematic experience.  He said that it was for the audience to judge.  On the reaction of the crowd at Raindance, The Ballad of Des and Mo was one of the best cinematic experiences of the entire festival.

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