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La Presse at the 74th Berlinale | The best actor of his generation?

(Berlin) Cillian Murphy is the best actor of his generation according to Christopher Nolan, who directed him in “Oppenheimer”. The filmmaker of “Tenet and Dunkirk” might not be the only one who thinks so. The Irish actor is almost certain to win the Oscar for best actor on March 10 for his role as the inventor of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer. It will be well deserved. Murphy embodies this scrupulous scientist with remarkable interiority and subtle intensity.

Posted at 3:27 p.m.


In “Small Things Like These”, the opening film of the 74th Berlinale, Cillian Murphy once again plays a tormented and silent character torn apart by a problem of conscience. The actor not only plays the main role, but is also one of the producers of this feature film by the Belgian Tim Mielants (Wil), which was presented among the 20 films in the official competition. The two men met on the set of the hit series Peaky Blinders.

“I was looking for a film project that we could work on together. It's my wife [l’artiste Yvonne McGuinness] who suggested I adapt Claire Keegan's book that I had read. “I was pleased to learn that the adaptation rights had not been acquired,” Cillian Murphy said at a press conference on Thursday.

The book of the same name by Claire Keegan, finalist for the Booker Prize 2022, addresses the scandal surrounding the Irish Catholic Church's mistreatment of single mothers. From the early 1920s to the late 1990s, around 9,000 children are said to have died in “mother-child homes” in Ireland and 10,000 single mothers were imprisoned against their will in these famous Magdalen convents (which also existed in Canada). Most were given up for adoption. The mothers who were rejected by their families were exploited by the church.

“It is a collective trauma that we are facing,” explains Cillian Murphy. I believe that art can be a balm for this kind of wound. It seems like everyone in Ireland has read this book. The ironic thing about the book is that it is about a Christian who wants to make a Christian gesture in a dysfunctional Christian society. We answer all kinds of questions about complicity, silence and shame. I don't believe that art's job is to answer these questions, but rather to provoke them. »

Poignant story

Cillian Murphy plays William Furlong, father of four daughters and owner of a small coal delivery business. In the mid-1980s, he worked to ensure that his family would not lack anything when the holiday season approached. One day, while delivering sacks of coal to the village monastery, he is stopped by a young woman in distress who begs him to help her. She sows doubt and shame in him because he doesn't denounce his knowledge.

Emily Watson plays an icy, if somewhat caricatured, role of an iron-fisted Mother Superior who, despite her outward mercy, is, in our opinion, tyrannical and unyielding. She welcomes these single mothers into the monastery, who in a sense become her slaves: laundresses, cooks, cleaning women without freedom.

La Presse at the 74th Berlinale The best actor


Cillian Murphy and Emily Watson

Those close to William, especially his wife (Eileen Walsh), warn him that if he says one word about what he has discovered, he would pay dearly. “Your heart is too sensitive,” she told him, reminding him that meddling in the affairs of the church can bring no good to his family (his daughters attend the school run by the same Sisters of Good Pastor).

Even if “Small Things Like These” does not stand out for the originality of its production, it is still a moving story about the complicit silence of an entire society in the face of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. This complacency that can be bought and exchanged, but at what cost? A film about courage and cowardice, about humanity, with a somewhat haunting metaphor about dirty hands.

The essence remains more implied than explained, even if in the end, thanks to the back and forth between the present and a traumatic past, we understand the fear that constantly inhabits this enigmatic and almost silent William. Cillian Murphy gives this classic film a deep soul in most shots, which can be seen in every expression on his melancholic face.

“I thought you were even better than Oppenheimer. Consider it a compliment! ” a journalist told him frankly (and not without awkwardness) at a press conference. He laughed politely. I don't know if Cillian Murphy is the best actor of his generation, but one thing is for sure: he's a damn good actor.

The accommodation costs were covered by the Berlinale and Telefilm Canada.