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BREAKFAST ON PLUTO, 2005
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BREAKFAST ON PLUTO,   MOVIE POSTERBREAKFAST ON PLUTO, 2005
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Directed by Neil Jordan
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Ruth Negga, Eva Birthistle, Conor McEvoy, Ruth McCabe, Charlene McKenna, Seamus Reilly
Review by Conor Duffy


SYNOPSIS:

In the 1970s Patrick "Kitten" Braden, misunderstood by his neighbours due to his penchant for women's clothing, leaves his small Irish town to search for the mother who abandoned him.

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REVIEW:

Adapted from Pat McCabe's novel of the same name, Breakfast on Pluto is a surprisingly upbeat and joyful film that examines a number of serious and sometimes dark subjects. Starting in a rural town on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland before switching to London, a city that is both vibrant yet living under the fear of IRA bomb attacks, it is a film that could easily leave the viewer feeling sombre if not outright depressed. That it doesn't, instead offering a life-affirming message of hope and happiness in trying times, is down to its central character, Patrick "Kitten" Braden. Remarkably played by Cillian Murphy, who received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, Kitten is a shining light among the dark alleys and country lanes where evil men carry out violent deeds.

Born a boy but far more comfortable living as a women, Braden is the result of a tryst between the local priest, Fr. Liam (Neeson) and his housekeeper Eily Bergin (Birthistle.) Eily leaves town not long after Patrick is born, and the child is put in the care of a hard-nosed foster mother. It is the first of many setbacks for young Kitten, yet it does not dampen her ever glowing optimism. However, as adulthood beckons and Braden must deal with the twin problems of sexual awakening and sectarian violence, it becomes much harder to retain this sense of innocence. The growing spectre of the IRA haunts this film, and director Neil Jordan, who has worked on a number of films dealing with sectarianism and terrorism, utilises this aspect of the tale with a gentle hand before occasionally thrusting forward with a quick, shocking shot to the stomach that takes the viewer's breath away.

The dual plots of Kitten's search for her mother and the increasing violence at the hands of the IRA are intertwined and overlap from time to time, but never to the detriment of the film. This is in keeping with the general worldview of the protagonist; when confronted with anger, Kitten's first response is to laugh. It is a defence and coping mechanism that allows a fragile, often lonely individual to live in a cruel and unforgiving world. Cillian Murphy's understanding of the character is such that Kitten never seems overplayed, even when she is being overdramatic. It is a stunning central performance, ably supported by some of the best acting talent Ireland has today.

Liam Neeson's depiction of Fr. Liam is the polar opposite of Kitten's bright and cheerful demeanour. He is stoic, one could almost say cold, a man paying daily penance for what his head tells him was a mistake but what his heart calls love. When Fr. Liam visits Kitten at a peep show and confesses all to his child (a reversal of the traditional confession), the character's stony facade slowly cracks without ever seeming forced. Equally, Ruth Negga shines as Kitten's best friend Charlie. She shares Kitten's energy but not her optimism, and she must face a number of difficult challenges herself, not least carrying the child of her boyfriend, an IRA member executed for supposedly turning informant. In the same way Fr. Liam becomes the confessor, Charlie turns from the one who cares most for Kitten into the one needing care.

It results in Kitten maturing in her own way, understanding the hardships of the world but never losing her playfulness. That attitude infuses the film with a light tone, even during the darkest of moments (and there are many, as Kitten faces prejudice for her nationality as well as her transgender lifestyle.)

Her nickname proves remarkably fitting, as she so often seems like a lost little animal, searching for love in all the wrong places. Men try to shelter her, look after her, but eventually must let her go for her own sake as well as theirs. Each meeting, each love and each confrontation simply reinforces Kitten’s view that in a world like this, all you can do is laugh. And to the surprise of the world - perhaps even herself - Kitten's search for her mother proves that she does indeed have claws.

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