The Disappearance of Finbar I

By Joe Parry

d. Sue Clayton
Pandora Films/Channel 4 Films
UK/Ireland/Sweden, 1996, 100 mins

Finbar follows the relationship between two Irish boys (Finbar and Danny) from their mid- to late teens, living in a rundown, urban backwater next to the motorway. Finbar, a failed footballer, bored with his girlfriend and worried about exams, disappears one night without trace, leaving his friend and family to wonder whether he is still alive. Three years later Danny goes in search of Finbar and discovers him in an isolated, snowbound part of Sweden. 

The main themes seem to be the friendship between the boys and the question of fate and whether one can escape it. The latter is handled more successfully, although no answers are provided. Finbar disappears from the top of a bridge crossing the motorway but lands in the back of a truck. The important question raised by Danny is, did he jump or fall? Was it chance that he escaped his life in Ireland or did he run away? 

The friendship theme, however, I found not entirely convincing. The film portrays plausibly a relationship between two childhood companions but does not make it seem strong enough to explain why Danny chases Finbar into the Swedish wilderness on what seems like a whim. Similarly, the idea that the pressures of exams and the fear of taking ‘responsibility’ may have driven Finbar away is credible, but these worries are not portrayed strongly enough to account for a young boy leaving his family and never getting in touch again. Because it is difficult to completely believe the story, practical questions keep posing themselves, like how much cash did the Swedish tourist board invest and how can an 18-year-old boy afford to travel around and visit bars in a country where a pint costs five pounds?

There is a streak of misogyny in the treatment of the women characters: Finbar’s mother goes mad, Danny’s gets off with the policemen heading the search for Finbar. Finbar’s Irish girlfriend falls in love with him forever after one quick love affair. The Swedish girl he and Danny meet makes the same mistake twice over by sleeping with two Irishmen she doesn’t trust; her mother before her got pregnant by a stranger; her grandmother is mad. It is true that these incidents are part of a pattern of repetition which is seen also in the men’s lives. Danny, going to Sweden, echoes something from the life of his grandfather who travelled as a sailor and had a Swedish friend. But what the women are mainly seen to repeat is falling for men.

Although the story does not always convince, the film has advantages. Music is used interestingly as it plays a central part in the plot, bringing the friends together, and also makes strange, sometimes comic connections: a Country and Western song that Finbar’s father sang in Ireland follows Danny through Sweden, relating the frozen wastes of the North to the American West; the snowbound bar where Danny eventually finds his friend turns out to be famous for the tango. Then the Swedish countryside is such an under-filmed place that it seems a more exotic setting than the Amazon rain forests or the African bush. The director has made a good choice with the two leading actors, who deliver strong performances. Overall an interesting and enjoyable film.

Joe Parry, who is at school, halfway through A-levels.