This 30-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into eleven sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.

Extract from Teacher's Commentary​

SEQUENCE 1 (DVD Chapters 1/2/3: 8 mins)

I’M A W.O.M.A.N.

Let the film roll until Maeve says “I’m coming!”

As the credits begin to roll, we hear the chirping of birds on the soundtrack. Then a low drone starts and gets gradually louder.  The visual track opens with an extremely low angle shot of a suburban housing estate: the camera is at ground level. The road is lined with lush green trees. A milk float enters the frame from left to right and explains the low drone on the soundtrack. A clichéd blues intro leads into the song I’M A W.O.M.A.N. It consists of a catalogue of chores that the narrator of the song is capable of. The tone is ironic and comic. However, it points to a major theme in the film: what it means to be a woman. Two boys, the milkman’s helpers, sit on the back of the milk float. The delivery of milk takes place traditionally at daybreak, so this may explain the chorus of birds that opened the film.

A series of shots show the boys delivering the bottles of fresh milk and collecting the empties. They have to work fast to keep up with the float. At the words “Stay up till six then start all over again” we cut to an interior shot of a darkened bedroom. The camera pans across the room and shows a sleeping girl. As it passes across a table-top covered with various objects, we notice a box lying on its side. The vocals pause and we hear a man’s voice calling “Maeve, get up!” We realise that the first image of the girl was in fact a reflection in a wardrobe mirror. Maeve stirs in response to the wake-up call. It is 8:15 a.m. The camera tilts upwards as Maeve dresses and we get a clear view of the box that is lying on its side – it contains a new bra. We cut to a close-up of Maeve as she takes the bright new bra from its box. She puts it on and then checks how she looks in the mirror. She checks the straps, fits the garment and poses left and right. A young man bustles into the room asking if Maeve has seen an item of his.  She covers herself, embarrassed at the intrusion.  At the word “I’M A W.O.M.A.N.” the final shot of the bedroom scene shows Maeve’s face in medium close-up as she finishes dressing and looks in the mirror one more time: a smile crosses her lips. The song ends with the words “And that’s all!” The title 32A appears. A stylised measuring tape runs over the number as the music fades.

This opening credit sequence has been book-ended by the fading in of the sound of the morning chorus of birds and the fading out of the ironic song about what it takes to be a W.O.M.A.N.  The scene is edited in five cuts: three long takes (the pan and Maeve dressing) and two close-ups (one of the new bra and one of Maeve’s smile).

Maeve’s friends (Orla , Claire and Ruth), who are on their way to school, stop when she calls on them to “Hang on!” Orla tells Maeve that she is late and Ruth teases her in a gentle way by saying “As usual ”A nun, Sr Una, appears at the school gate hurrying the girls along.  She nags at them about assembly beginning in three minutes. She looks down the road at a man in a mackintosh who is loitering by the school wall.  Her commands ring out: “Hurry up!” and “Don’t run!” She is one of those stock characters in comedy with whom we are presented for the purpose of adding to the humour of a text. She is a caricature of the authority figure.  We are seldom required to take such characters seriously or empathise with the emotions they experience. The man in the mac turns away from her gaze and promptly bounds over the wall when she turns her back on him.

We cut to the girls’ locker room and hear talk of Boyers, a department store on the north side of the Liffey in Dublin city. Then the opening sequence is fully explained: Maeve is wearing her first bra. She has been measured for it and has had it fitted without much unease. Ruth’s initiation was not quite so smooth. Two girls leave, telling Maeve that her new bra is lovely. She seems to be genuinely delighted with the compliment. Orla reassures her that it is great to have made the move and Maeve says that Claire is next. Just as we found out that Ruth is uninhibited and straight-talking earlier, we now learn that Claire is a budding feminist who will never wear that symbol of female oppression, the bra.  It is not clear where she is getting this kind of talk from, but it was current in feminism from the 60s onwards. Ruth’s brashness comes out again when she tells Claire she will change her mind as she develops. As Maeve inspects her newly shaped figure in the mirror, another pair of girls leave but this time with the hurtful line “Like two fried eggs!” This is the second scene in which a mirror forms part of the setting. Maeve and Ruth will be presented in mirrors again and again in the course of this film. On one level they show the preoccupation of teenagers in general with their appearance.  On the metaphorical level they may be read as a symbol of the fact that, like all teenagers, Maeve and Ruth are searching for their true selves.  They are trying different roles, different looks, in an effort to find themselves and get a fuller picture of themselves and their place in the world.

We cut to a shot of the girls on a bench, the first of many such shots in the narrative. Claire is puzzling over a crossword, another indication of her nerdy personality.  The other girls are observing the busts of passing females and guessing their bra sizes. There are two inserts from their point of view, in the first of which a buxom blonde woman is presented to us in slow motion approaching the camera.  As the other girls comment, Claire is puzzling over the five letter word that will solve the clue “Ass. Ninny.” The girls continue with their gossip about Louise Kenny’s sister who wears tights, stilettos and lipstick, Claire calls out “Idiot”, the solution to her crossword clue.  Both of her utterances can be read comically and ironically as comments on her view of the shallowness of the girls’ talk. This is a good example of how humour can derive from the situation and the language in a scene.

The musical theme played on the guitar emphasises the change in the girls’ tone (all four of them) when Brian Power is introduced. He is presented to us from their point of view in slow motion as he strolls confidently by the girls, smoking a cigarette and gazing pensively into the distance.  The soundtrack, camerawork and editing combine in this scene to present the audience with an image of how the girls see Brian.  Their sighs indicate the effect he has on them. Ruth is pushed off the bench by Claire: she has fallen for Brian Power and lies at his feet. He does not even notice her. Orla has all the gossip about him from “the grove” (sic), a north side Dublin disco very popular with certain teenagers in the 70s and 80s.  Brian is not the kind of young man who has trouble finding girlfriends for himself.

Maeve comes home to an eerily silent kitchen. The camera moves around the table on a dolly and shows the Brennans in medium shot as the eldest, Dessie, is eyeballed by his father, Frank, and his mother, Jean. The scene is all significant glances but Frank takes refuge behind his newspaper rather than articulate the source of whatever problem is affecting the family. Sinead, the little sister, comes straight out with the news. She will do this many times in the course of the narrative, acting almost as a chorus that fills the audience in on what is happening. This scene establishes the difference between Maeve and Sinead: the latter has picked up the seriousness of Dessie’s misdemeanour (“… now we might have to get the police for him”) but Maeve only finds the situation comical and fails to contain her growing hilarity.  Jean is strait-laced, takes offence at the whole company and leaves, trying to hide her frustration with an ironic “Ha! Ha! Ha!” Frank explodes then and flings his paper, which he had been using almost as a screen, at Dessie. Sinead runs out after Jean wailing childishly that she needs work done on the hem of her skirt.  Donal, the younger brother, leaves after Dessie, holding his Rubik’s Cube, an indicator of the time in which the action is set - 1979.

A new musical theme is introduced on the electric guitar. It plays over the next scene in Maeve’s bedroom, but starts while she is still pictured in the kitchen The soundtrack will often lead the visual track in this way as this film progresses, producing a smooth transition from scene to scene. Maeve sits at her table doing homework until she hears Dessie coming out of his bedroom.  There is a subtle change in the camerawork that brings Dessie into sharp focus as he turns crankily on Maeve asking “What?” as if he is expecting trouble. He gets it as he goes out the door when he is questioned by Jean. He speaks cheekily to his mother telling her he is going to “the grove”.  These last two scenes have defined the status of the children in the Brennan household: Sinead and Donal are still young and innocent; Dessie is the eldest and is rebellious as he tries to find his way in the world, and Maeve has just left the former for the latter stage. She stands, her back to the wall, listening to the results of Dessie’s action: Jean is asking Frank if he is going to do anything.  Frank refuses to take any blame for his wayward son.  He blames her “mollycoddling” of Dessie and shouts, “Look at him now!”

Next morning Sinead wakes Maeve with the news that her mother is annoyed with her for not doing the washing up and that Ruth is on the phone for her. Maeve agrees to call over to Ruth. Jean is barking out the Saturday chores and wants Dessie to leave the living room spotless. A woman wipes down the glass of the hall door. The atmosphere is edgy. Maeve handles a bra which has been drying on the radiator: the lyrics of the song from the opening credit sequence might come to mind and suggest that Maeve may be asking whether this is what it means to be a W.O.M.A.N. The reality of becoming a woman might not match up with the appearance. The irony of the song’s lyrics takes on a bitter twist.