The opening moments of Lance Daly’s feisty, captivating coming-of-ager are uncompromisingly bleak. A dead dog lies rotting by the roadside. Busted bikes nestle amid festering, scattered debris. This could be hell, and for young tweens Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) living on the outskirts of Dublin, it might as well be. Inhabiting a literally black-and-white world with little prospect, their neighbouring families are as bad as each other – scrapping and abusive, they put Shameless to shame. Not even Christmas alleviates their spirits. And after a bust-up with his brutish dad, Dylan sets out into the big city to find his AWOL older brother, with Kylie along for the haul.
Devoid of colour and up to its eyeballs in domestic turbulence, Kisses fosters a painful, monochrome melancholy. Then, as Dylan and Kylie take flight, skipping down river aboard a junk barge, the black and white blushes. Iridescent hues whisper into their surroundings. Gradually the colour builds until the screen is saturated with the glow of Dublin’s kaleidoscopic city lights. It’s a showy contrivance that is never gaudy, never puckers, tapping into the childish pleasures that our duo have rarely, if ever, experienced.
But if the whimsical visuals seem to suggest an escapist, wish-fulfilment adventure, think again. The more they wrench at their council estate leashes, the more futile our duo’s struggle appears. And as their twilight search/exploration wears on, the nefarious streetfolk that the kids encounter grow increasingly more dangerous. Childish fears quickly harden into something more real and terrifying. “There’s no devil, just people,” Kylie realises after one explosive, if overdramatic, encounter.
In their first ever acting roles, Curry and O’Neill are phenomenal. At once bullish, immature and naïve, their struggle for understanding, for more, is as moving as it is ultimately hopeless. It’s fitting that their journey is pitched to the strains of Bob Dylan; both kids inexplicably drawn to the counterculture king without ever knowing why. The film’s emblematic anti-theme tune, Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm’, says it all.
By journey’s end, Daly’s fusion of youthful anxiety and child-like yearning has established itself as a beautifully realised epitaph to social unrest. Part celebration, part call to arms, it’s a sarky, quirky delight. “I’ve nothing else to give, only kisses,” explains one brief encounter. “When you kiss, you give or you take.” Kisses is a giver.
Anticipation: Looks a bit like This Is Ireland. 2
Enjoyment: These kids can act and they like Bob Dylan? Get to the head of the class, you beauts. 4
In Retrospect: A riveting, emotional spectacle with stacks of style and a song in its heart. 4