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Love is a Sting

Directed by Vincent Gallagher

Starring Sean T.Meallaigh, Barry Murphy

Short film review by Joseph Banham

Everyone adores a good love story. Romance is a genre that always has a place in storytelling and always will. Some of the most memorable screen couples in recent years have come from some very unusual places. These include the love between two robots (WALL.E), a teen romance where the boy is a member of the undead (Warm Bodies), and the bonding between a man and his ultra-realistic love doll (Lars and the Real Girl). Vincent Gallagher’s new short film, Love Is A Sting, presents a similarly unconventional relationship, that of a lonely children’s book writer and a sprightly mosquito.

Harold Finch (Sean T.Meallaigh) is a solitary writer, living alone in an apartment and spending sleepless nights hunched over either a typewriter or a piano. Downtrodden in both his social and professional life, Harold appears to be having no luck getting any of his work published. To further add to his misfortune, another problem comes flying in through the window one day in the form of a very persistent and seemingly immortal mosquito.

Harold tries unsuccessfully to get the unwelcome, buzzing pest out of his life. After the age-old method of using a rolled up newspaper proves hopeless, he completely engulfs himself in layers of clothing, circling his apartment while armed with dual spatulas to abruptly put an end to the mosquito’s lifespan. He even takes the excessive step of calling in an exterminator (Barry Murphy), but yet again, it’s to no avail. It turns out, however, that the nuisance has a name, Anabel, and all she wants, much like Harold, is someone to reach out to. What follows are a series of delightful scenes as the two gradually come to understand each other and find clever ways of communicating.

The central performance from Meallaigh is marvellously touching. Considering that he had nothing to work with in most scenes, just the task of keeping an eye line with an imaginary flying dot, he produces a strikingly honest performance.

The film’s score is a triumph of saccharine melodies and soothing rhythms. The mainly piano-led music is representative of Harold’s character as a musical book writer who spends a lot of his waking hours slaving away on the piano keys. And, just like Howard, the music has elements of quiet melancholy mixed with feelings of growing hope.

The cinematography is equally as skillful. There are many shots of the camera gliding along with Anabel that are as creatively choreographed as they are technically impressive, giving the film a constant feeling of movement despite being set in an enclosed space. Harold’s flat is romanticised with an array of colour and soft focus. The set is dressed with pages of Harold’s rejected ideas strewn across the floor and filled bookshelves covering every wall. This is definitely the habitat of a struggling writer with a cluttered mind.

You may think that it’s incredibly hard to ever make your audience feel for a blood-sucking insect, one that is the source of many annoying itchy lumps and responsible for the purchase of a lot of insect repellent in summer. And yet, Gallagher manages it with joyous ease. The audience’s sympathy for Anabel is helped along by the softly-spoken narration, provided by Ciaran Hinds.

There is a slight awkwardness in the blending of a cartoonishly CGI mosquito with the naturalistic setting. It’s hardly an unforgivable setback by any means, especially considering the slight budget, and it only becomes a small distraction in the close-up shots of Anabel. The animation isn’t bad; it just doesn’t seem to fit the tone. I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more effective to forgo the close-up shots altogether and keep Anabel as a simple spec. Having said that, her wide-eyed design makes her appear appropriately lovable, and will likely make her appeal to younger audiences.

At its heart, Love Is A Sting is a typical love story where a shy, withdrawn man connects with an outgoing, exuberant girl. Opposites attract, as the saying goes. The fact that, in this case, the latter is an insect doesn’t really matter at all, and the friendship that blossoms between Harold and Annabel is fervently heartwarming. Harold is the type of underdog character who is instantly relatable. It’s his familiar yet entertaining journey that makes the 20-minute short so cheerfully easy to watch, resulting in a great family film.

Read more film reviews from this year's Cork Film Festival.


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