A soulful documentary, looking at one man’s struggle with life, loss and grief, Sean Mullan’s intimate, inventive short Inhale takes you inside the headspace of a man who has lost a lot, but still has plenty of offer. Detailing the life story of Mullan’s Uncle Jim, this is a very specific and personal tale, that manages to maintain a level of accessibility through its universal themes and creative production.
A somewhat experimental take on a very human struggle, Mullan’s 16-minute film begins with his Uncle revealing (through voiceover) his secrets to horse-training, but as the film evolves, although horses are ever-present, the film develops into a more existential tale examining mortality. Featuring close-up footage, drone-shots and slow-motion, combining with a haunting soundtrack by cellist Kim Vaughan (Mullan’s cousin) and Jim’s philosophical thoughts, Inhale is an almost meditative piece, that allows plenty of space for self-reflection.
“I wanted to give Jim’s words a visual truth”, Mullan reveals when discussing the aims of his short, “I needed to channel that sensation of shared time that is cinema. I felt Jim’s life was a place to explore the difficult, complicated, conflicting and philosophical questions about acceptance, life and mortality”.
“I was so intrigued to collaborate with Jim’s land, horses, body and mind”, he adds. “The physicality of all four are visuals that display a particular balance between strength and fragility. They let you feel and almost smell the pressures of time, something heavy but lightly fleeting away. To capture and revisit, even for a moment, a shared experience in hope and memory”.
Shot over a 14-day period, Mullan already had a strong bond with his Uncle, but knew for his film to work, he would need the horses to feel comfortable around him. To do this, the director worked at the stables for two months prior to the shoot> This not only had the desired effect of making the horses more comfortable with his presence, it also resurfaced “fleeting past moments” from his relationship with Jim.
Traditional in terms of themes, Inhale’s more abstract filmmaking approach may be a little off-putting for some viewers. It feels at times that Mullan is more interested in the tone and rhythm of the film than he is the story, but for me this is what made it standout, this is what drew me to it.
In recent times, these profile/portrait docs have become somewhat formulaic and Mullan’s film is certainly a break from the mould. Like many others, it focuses on a man with a specific trade, a passion for what he does. However, instead of focusing on his craft, it focuses on the man himself and through his experiences the film is elevated into something deeper, something with more meaning, something that will hopefully have an emotional impact on its audience.
With his latest short documentary Billy Willy touring festivals, Mullan is currently developing two fictional shorts, working on a Red Bull Media House commissioned short and working on a feature documentary film with Fine Point Films