THIS IS MY FATHER IS ACTUALLY TWO films: The first is about a jaded Chicago schoolteacher (James Caan) who returns to Ireland with his rebellious nephew (Jacob Tierney) to rediscover his soul, his history, his identity, and so on. This is the weak part of the film, and it functions as a frame for the great green gem that is the second story.

This story is set in 1939, in rural Ireland, and concerns a strange love affair between two people who could hardly be more dissimilar. One (Moya Farrelly) is beautiful, the other (Aidan Quinn) is ugly; one is rich, the other is poor; one is smart and a free-thinker, the other is slow and deeply religious. Despite their extreme differences, they fall in love, and it's the monstrous nature of this love affair that gives the second story its greatness.

Their love affair is monstrous on two accounts: first, the young and beautiful woman is not altogether there. She's unstable, unpredictable, and the lonely giant she falls in love with is nothing more than a projection of her deformed soul. Second, the man not only looks like a monster, he acts like a monster. He knows that the girl is insane, he knows her love for him is a product of that insanity, yet he accepts (and hungrily devours) her demented affection.

Though I'm not a big fan of Aidan Quinn's acting, in this movie he manages to play the monster with profound perfection. Everything about him exudes the dimness, the dullness, the gloom of a brutish existence. "We worked for hours to design this look," he told me when I spoke with him and his brother Paul Quinn (who wrote and directed the film). "I wore a piece on my eye which closed it, and false teeth which were stained and threw off my smile a little bit. And Paul made me gain weight."

"Yes," avuncular Paul confirmed, "I wanted him to be bigger. I kept telling him the bigger the better, and so he began to drink Guinness to give him a thicker look."

The preparation paid off. Between Aidan's monster and Moya Farrelly's mad girl, a lyrical, numinous world comes to life. Indeed, it is a "world more full of weeping than you could ever know." This Is My Father is not a story about how love can bring together two people from radically different worlds, but how a miserable man had the chance of a lifetime, and used it to steal the kisses and pleasures of a beautiful, upper-middle-class lass. FILM

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