In Irish director Declan Recks' remarkably tense romantic drama "Eden," actions speak louder than words -- or, at least, more coherently, as far as American audiences are concerned. For those inexperienced in the careful discernment of regional accents, "Eden" offers no subtitles, but the central themes are thankfully not lost in translation. Recks relied on visual lyricism as much as dialogue when translating Eugene O'Brien's devastating 2002 play about an estranged young married couple from the stage to the screen. As a result, he doesn't mind if a few lines remain unintelligible to certain viewers. "It makes them pay attention more," Recks told indieWIRE. "People might not get every single word, but they know what's going on from the performances. It's not a very heavily plotted film; it's a character study."
Making his directorial debut after working on Irish television productions for several years, Recks put a clear effort into creating a narrative with distinctly cinematic qualities. Filmed in a gorgeous spectrum of colors to evoke the rustic seaside community where the story takes place, "Eden" shifts between conflicting perspectives of a relationship on the rocks. It begins by examining the fractured marriage of Billy (Aidan Kelly), a reckless alcoholic, and Breda (Eileen Walsh), in the days leading up to their tenth wedding anniversary. "A lot of films tend to start at the beginning of a relationship, where you see the most exciting parts," Recks said. "They tend not to deal with the people who have been together for years and are trying to deal with everyday life. I think the fact that we start our story there makes it slightly unconventional."
In a series of increasingly awkward social gatherings, the couple's inability to properly communicate becomes obvious. As they go through various stages of denial -- particularly via sexual frustration -- the unspoken dissatisfaction slowly accumulates before erupting in a climax brimming with emotional finality. With its the tearful conclusion, "Eden" suggests the possibility of reconciliation, if not redemption, for the psychological sins Billy and Breda commit against each other.
However, each character's sense for the other remains a mystery for viewers to unravel for themselves. While O'Brien's stage play unfolded through Billy and Breda's internal monologues as they both directly addressed the audience -- but never each other -- Recks, collaborating with O'Brien on the screenplay, refused to use voiceovers as a crutch for displaying the couple's fragility. "The question was, how do you see that without hearing what's going on in their heads," he said. "It was a big challenge for Eugene to get away from being able to tell people what was happening."
Recks decided to alternate between two vastly different camera strategies to represent the divisive points of view. Scenes featuring Billy's perspective, many of which find him intoxicated, were mainly shot with a handheld approach. For Breda, a relentless optimist vainly trying to rejuvenate her frayed marriage until the final devastating act, Recks used steadier shots on tripods and tracks. The result is a jarring sense of incompatibility, culminating with Billy's savage, booze-fueled attempts to cheat on his wife at a party while she does the same outside.
As Billy and Breda simultaneously veer toward marital betrayal, Recks makes it impossible to sympathize with only one side of the equation. "One of the things we had in mind was how divided the audience was going to be at the end," he said. "At the beginning, people side with Breda, but I think they're both very flawed characters." Recks said he recognized Billy and Breda from his own life. "I've seen them around town, at the pub," he explained. "They're the couples that barely talk to each other. Some people have trouble with [Billy] drinking so much. Why doesn't she just leave him? It's more complex than that."
Although "Eden" hails from an entirely different world than hermetic, overtly sentimental American romances such as "The Notebook," Recks' attentive implementation of human impulses has a broad potential audience. Unsurprisingly, the movie was co-produced by David Collins, whose previous credits include the Oscar-winning 2006 drama "Once." With its stripped-down emphasis on two believable characters and the straightforward conflict pulling them apart, "Eden" taps into a similar appeal: It's universally bittersweet.
After a successful premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film landed a North American distribution deal with Liberation Entertainment, which will release it this week. Meanwhile, Recks is collaborating with O'Brien on his next feature, a film noir. The director expects to rely on American financing for his more ambitious sophomore effort, but has no question about the setting. "There are very specific Irish stories that need to be made," he said. "And they need to travel around."