Lance Daly Talks the Magic of Kisses

The Irish director brings his award-winning drama to the USA this summer

An award-winning and crowd-pleasing hit since its 2008 debut in Ireland, director Lance Daly is finally bringing his film Kisses to the states on July 16th. This heartfelt and beautifully photographed story revolves around two kids living on the fringes of Dublin, trapped in a suburban housing estate devoid of life, color and any prospect of escape. Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) lives with five other siblings and her overworked mother. Next door, Dylan (Shane Curry) lives in the shadows of an alcoholic father and the memory of an elder brother who ran away from home two years earlier. After a violent altercation with his drunk and angry dad, Dylan runs away from home and Kylie decides to join him on this wayward adventure. Together they make their way to the magical nighttime lights of inner city Dublin, to search for Dylan's brother in the hope of finding the possibility of a new life.

We recently caught up with Lance Daly to chat with him about this truly magical little slice of life film. Here's our conversation:

I just finished watching your movie about twenty minutes ago.

Lance Daly Did you? Are you still angry at me?

No. Not at all. I did find it a little depressing at the end. Everything went back to this stolid black and white world. Was there a reason why no color was evident when they finally arrived back home? Do you think these two kids will ever find color in their lives again? Because I was left with this feeling that this one night was as much color as these kids would ever see in their lifetime. Is that the feeling you were trying to evoke?

Lance Daly Wait a second. I wonder what type of television you were watching the film on over there. Did you notice on the parting kiss? At the end? Did you notice a little flash of color?

I didn't, actually.

Lance Daly You'll have to go back and watch the last scene again, when they arrive at the house. You might see a little glimpse of hope in there if you watch closely. .

Its so subtle, some people might miss it.

Lance Daly These were questions we had at the script stage. Even if you tell someone the story, and they get to the end, it seems like, "God, this is a miserable thing." But if you watch it in a room full of people, everyone is really super charged up. It's because of what these two kids have created between themselves. That's what's going to make everything bearable, I think. But yeah, you have to watch out for it. There is a little hint of color in there.

Why did you think I would be angry? Do you find people often get angry with you after they've discovered that you directed this particular film?

Lance Daly No. That was just me being self-defacing. I like to start from this position, "Oh, he hated the movie!" That is the paranoid, insecure, neurotic filmmaker inside of me. Ignoring me is the best way to deal with this.

Where did this story come from? Were these kids you'd seen in the street one day? Or are we seeing some of your personal background in the plight of these two kids?

Lance Daly I suppose this is a mix of so many factors. It's a mix of themes that I've had in my other films, such as escape. It's reflecting on some places and people I know back home. There are some personal stories in there. I was also trying to experiment with how one goes about making a road movie. It's an American genre in film, and I wanted to see that placed in an Irish setting. The road movie doesn't read into that culture, or have any significance. But I wanted to play that out and see how I could make it work in this time, and this particular place. It was a whole mix of all these things. That's a hard question to answer, "Where did this film come from?" Because I think all of the films I have done, that have been personal, come from carrying this script around. You live in a place, you are jotting things down as you go, and you are constantly expanding. The whole Bob Dylan aspect came in because I was driving around in one of the areas I was wanting to shoot in. I was thinking about it, and I was writing it. I had Bringing It Back Home. The Bob Dylan album. That tape was stuck in my tape player. It was playing all the time in the car. Bob somehow infused his way into the story. Then, I ran into Stephen Rea at a Bob Dylan gig in downtown London. I noticed there was a remarkable similarity between them. I thought, "Huh? Maybe I can get Stephen in there." So there are all of these different things that I picked up along the way.

Was it your decision to have the subtitles throughout the film? And why did you think that was important for the audience?

Lance Daly I was asked that by a few other directors. They said, "Why on Earth did you allow them to subtitle the film?" Actually? I am most interested in having the audience experience the film as fully as possible. I noticed at our first few screenings in America, at the various festivals, that the audiences were a little confused by the accents. I could see people turning, asking, "What did he say? What did she say?" It was getting in the way of people connecting with the film. So we found a way to selectively subtitle it. The whole film is not subtitled. But if there is something crucial to the story? Or something that is going to take you out of the film? That is where we subtitle it. I think it connects. It steps over that little barrier of an accent. Obviously, the entire story is being told in the English language. The accent can muddy it a little bit. Subtitling can help that along. It doesn't affect the film too much. A lot of the film is visual anyway. A lot of the story unfolds with you just watching these faces. They might not actually be saying anything. There aren't subtitles all the way through it. We just threw in those little flags to keep people inside the story.

That's what I found funny about it. I was watching the subtitles, and to myself, I was like, "I can totally understand what he is saying." Then the subtitles went away for a moment, and suddenly I was thinking, "Oh, God! I didn't understand what he said. What did he say?" I became a little too reliant on reading those subtitles.

Lance Daly Yeah. Its funny. People are like that. "I can understand him!" Then you take the subtitles away, and its like, "Oh, my god!" You actually feel the panic set into the audience. They think, "Oh, no! This is important and I can't understand this. Now I am going to be completely lost." You want every one to ease into it. I'm sorry if you missed a line in there. I promise you, if there wasn't a subtitle, it's not of any consequence to the story. You certainly didn't miss anything.

What is the meaning behind the dead goldfish at the beginning of the film, and how do you feel that one shot represents and pushes forward the story being told?

Lance Daly Its funny. The film started originally with a whole theme centered around the family. At the end of that scene, Kelly O'Neill, who plays Kylie, ran up to the bedroom. After being pushed into the Christmas tree. The whole scene was really busy. She went into her bedroom and looked in at the fish that was dead. She then looked out the window as she heard some shouting. Actually, I thought after we shot it, that all we needed out of all of that chaos and all of that noise, was just Kylie looking down at that dead fish. There is something so powerful about it. I think it's interesting to open a film on an image this particular world is set in. If you can do that in the opening titles, then the audience sits there and thinks, "Okay, so this is the world we are starting in." This is a world that might change as the story unfolds. But here is the starting point. A dead fish floating in a bowl is a sign of domestic neglect. It's a sign of stagnation. I hate to try and quantify it into words. If you find the right image, it becomes a lot more powerful than anything else. It seems that the fish set a tone, on a lot of different levels, for this world in which we begin.

Does the dead goldfish at all represent the place that Dylan and Kylie are heading back too? They've lived their moment of color, now they are just dead goldfish in a bowl.

Lance Daly No. It's not the same. Because they have something in each other at the end, which they didn't have when this started. That something in each other is, like any good love story, the only important thing. They don't have that particular connection at the start, but they've found it by the end. You can go back to this black and white world. But you know they have this color between them.

As the two kids enter the city for the first time, we see a lot of individuals illuminated by blinking lights. From the Santa hat in the department store, to the musician in the street, to Dylan's shoes. Why did you feel that was important to incorporate into the story, going beyond the color palate that is slowly eased into the film?

Lance Daly I think the story has to be about the kids going out into the world, and opening their eyes to the possibilities. To what their lives could be. Opening up to each other. Pushing the color in there is about opening up their perceptions to what is going on. I was trying to find dynamic people to populate that world. I wanted to show them that it is possible to be a little more than what their role models are being. You know?

With the color scheme, starting in black and white and slowly fading into color, were you trying to evoke a fantasy type feeling within a plight that is very realistic in its brutality?

Lance Daly I thought it was an interesting journey to take. To start out with something that looks like a European art house film. Than have it become more fantastical. It becomes more of an American movie. Then goes back again. Maybe that is a reflection of the films I want to continue to make. To go from one extreme to the other? It presents you with a chance to really take the audience on a truly transformative journey. You really take them out of a rut and place them somewhere that is interesting. As a filmmaker, the idea presents a lot of opportunities. It reflects on how the audience is going to feel. And it informs this journey you are going to take them on.

Are road trip films just not well received in Ireland? Or do they just not make them there?

Lance Daly I think this is a cultural question. America is built on this idea of escape. Everyone comes to America to escape something. It's this idea of a frontier, and looking towards the future. It's very forward looking. It looks back to nature. This idea of escape has always been a part of American culture. We don't have that. The idea of escape in Ireland is about the past. In Ireland, when someone escapes in any story, they wind up going back to the place that was most significant to them. They work out issues, and they deal with their history. American culture is forward thinking. Irish culture is more obsessed with history. You take a road movie, and you put it in Ireland? Its just not realistic that anybody ever really escapes. Or gets very far. I wanted to play with how you'd make a road movie truthful. As an Irish story. If this was an American story, I think the kids could very easily find the missing brother and then set off, heading into the horizon. They would all drive off into the sunset. But that's not true for our culture. In Ireland, you have to do something different to feel and stay true. There are a lot of complicated issues.

Every year, it seems like we get one or two really good films from Ireland, but surely there are more. How would you describe the Ireland film scene, and how easy is it to get a movie made in the country?

Lance Daly There is some state support in Ireland. There are some tax incentives. There are things that you don't have here. But there isn't the same level of support, or people who want to finance your films in Ireland. I think it balances out. It seems like we make films over here, and you guys make some Indie films over there. We all find a way. But, if I was to come out here without Kisses, it would have been a long time waiting to get a film made here. We've been making films for ten years in Ireland. So we are better wired into how that all works.

How hard is it for an Irish filmmaker such as yourself to find an audience in America? Is that in easy thing to accomplish?

Lance Daly I don't know. It must be hard to get your film to open, because we've had a bit of a wait to get this out. We first showed it in America in 2008. At the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. North America as a whole? Its pretty hard to get a release. But then you get one. We had previews here, and everyone went crazy. Everyone that has seen it has responded to it. Its hard to tell. I guess it depends on the film and what we've done with it. We know its possible to get an audience. The reality is that Ireland makes twenty or thirty feature films a year. I am sure only one comes out here once every two years. Its not a good head count ratio.

You first showed this film to US audiences back in 2008. I am not sure when you finished filming it. But are these two kids completely grown up now?

Lance Daly Oh, yeah. It gave me a freight. Shane Curry is nearly the same height as me now. So is Kelly O'Neill, actually. Even when we were shooting, they were growing so fast. When we went to loop the dialogue, Shane's voice had broken. Suddenly, his voice was way deeper, and we had to pitch all of his looped lines up a little bit to make them match. I am sure you'd not even recognize him if you were to see him today.

What is that like for you? To live through that long gap, between when an Irish audience sees the film, and when an American audience finally sees it?

Lance Daly I am going to go see the premiere tonight in New York. I haven't seen the film since the San Francisco Film Festival last year. Its going to be very interesting. Its nice going back to a film after that much time has passed. If you can imagine. You get to see it the way the audience sees it. Because you've forgotten a lot of the trauma, and the ups and downs that went into making it. Ask me that question again tomorrow.

And the amazing thing is, you've already finished your next film. Right?

Lance Daly Yeah. (Laughs) I finished a film called The Good Doctor. We finished shooting it in March. We'll finish all of the editing, and sound and music, in September. Hopefully it will come out in the States early next year. But it is an American film. We shot it in Los Angeles. Orlando Bloom is the lead. He is from England, but we had a great American cast. This was a really great ensemble, and it was interesting to work with an American crew for the first time. I'm sure that will be out here sometime next year. It's a suspense thriller.

Did you continue this idea of mixing fantasy with reality in the film?

Lance Daly Actually, yes. A little bit. Its about an eccentric young doctor who lives in his own world half the time. He lives in his own head. There is a fantasy element. I like to think that it has my finger prints on it. It feels like the same voice. Lets see, after it's finished, if that voice is still there.