Twenty-three years after the historic Good Friday Agreement created peace and an effectively open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland ending decades of sectarian violence, Belfast is riddled with riots again. The conflict is a reaction from pro-British Loyalists in the wake of Britain’s exit from the European Union, and the new Northern Ireland Protocol, which, while leaving Irish border open, imposes restrictions on some goods from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Four Seasons in a Day, part of a European six-part TV and film series called Borderline, is a spot of quiet before the storm.This leisurely, documentary takes place around the ferry terminals on either side of Carlingford Lough, a dreamy inlet on the northeast of Ireland that crosses an underwater border, guarded only by a resident dolphin known as Finn.
Since 2017, a passenger ferry has carried people back and forth on the 15-minute trip, bringing friends and families on holiday, workers and even coffins, travelling from one shore to the another. The film introduces us to characters on both sides of the water — a farmer and his son, a fisherman, young boys at a caravan camp, a girl who’s a competitive dancer — and mostly friendly chat, all set against the lush green landscape, the sea, and the Mourne mountains, a range of low-lying hills on the northern side. When you can see the Mourne mountains, it’s about to rain, explains one local woman. And when you can’t see them, “it is raining.”
The title, Four Seasons in a Day, is a local expression which refers to the erratic weather, a metaphor for the changing political climate. When politics is discussed, usually by friends and family around a kitchen table, there is general agreement that things are much better now than in the past, that Catholics and Protestants who would never have fraternized, are now co-workers and friends.
Yet, when the subject of British or Irish identity arises, the clouds block the sunlight. The same pleasant folks’ tone changes, and their eyes flash with defiance: Never will they renounce their national identities! For those of us who haven’t lived their bitter histories, these attachments to old abstractions are both strange and frightening, and seems as absurd as the underwater border, monitored by a dolphin.
Four Seasons in a Day premieres at Hot Docs 2021.