Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

 Damn these long film titles!!! They are a pain especially if your typing skills are as bad as mine! I shall just have to abbreviate it to Barley from here on in. This was the last movie I watched on a very busy Thursday night. It is Saturday as I write this and I have another four movies I have watched since then, so my poor fingers are going to be busy dancing slowly over the keyboards for some time to come.
 Barely played at the Century Cinema about five years ago at its annual Film Festival. I didn't see it and there was actually a reason. I'm interested in history but Ireland's I stay well away from. It is very complex and I don't have the time or will to get bogged down in reading it ( and I do actually  have Irish ancestry! ). But that doesn't mean I wish to explore Ireland's past. The troubles of Ireland remind me very much of the war in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990's. I have read some of the actual war and the fighting, but the history that started the war and how far it goes back is complex as well. Too complex for a quick read to get up to speed on. So I have passed on both country's pasts.
 But with Ireland I'm not completely naive as I have seen all the drama on televsion and remember it all well. I can rememeber Bobby Sands even though I was only about ten at the time. All the bombs etc you never forget either. The one that almost got Thatcher and her cabinent (in 1981??) is indelibly etched on my mind. As is the attempt by the IRA to hit 10 Downing Street with a home made mortar.
 I will say here that I have no sides and reserve no judgements. I'm a Kiwi and on the other side of the world and really in no position to judge. We as a country have our own shameful periods of history so no-one is really in a position to judge others. But of course you can't delve into Ireland without coming up against the injustices practised by both sides. Both believed themselves right and as frustration bore on frustration injustices were committed. This isn't unique to Ireland and is common right throughout history.
 Barley is set in the early 1920's and one scene in particular struck me. Cillian Murphy's character is held by the British after a series of hits on British soldiers. The captain in the room loses it and screams at Murphy that these men had served on the Somme. For me more than anything else in the film hit me the hardest. You instantly see the divisions between the IRA and the British soldiers. The Somme, more than any other battle ever fought conjures up images of senseless death like nothing before or since. It is synomous with sheer slaughter and incompetence. I can so feel the captain's grief and hatred directed towards the IRA for killing men that had survived such horror as the had Somme provided.
 And yet there is the other side of that coin. British soldiers in Ireland were beating and killing innocent Irish for the hell of it. What did they expect when they retaliated, Somme or no Somme? It is the real crux of the film and incredibly done. I feel sympathy for the individual Tommy who served in Ireland. Many didn't know or understand why they were there. Some were just sadists and raised the ire of the population. I felt for the Irish at the injustices committed against them by individual British soldiers and can fully feel their desire to hit back.
 What a bloody mess it all was. It isn't unfair to compare Ireland to the British as Vietnam became to the Americans. Barley finds the balance between the two sides well. Both are depicted without judgement or sentimentality. Not all the British were bad and many came to hate what they were involved in. It is also difficult watching when Irish start killing fellow Irish for siding with the British.It shows that brutality breeds brutality and when things denegrate to that level right and wrong is blurred beyond distiction.
 Pulling a mans finger nails out and then wondering why you get ambushed and killed later is a no brainer. But the viewer feels the anger of the Irish build and explode into action as years of abuse takes it toll. The film is based against actual historical events which I'm not knowledgable on. But what is seen to me felt authentic. The divisions within the Irish and the IRA itself are also apparent. And then when the Treaty with Britain is ratified the divisions within the population also appear. Who is right and who wrong is too difficult to unravel, because ulimately neither party is, and both suffer their respective agonies for what they believe in. It is all beautifully realised and portrayed by all concerned, both actor and script writers.
 All in all this is a very, very good historical drama. I felt for both sides and yet depised the acts of brutality by a few British sadists. When you witness them you can't help but sympathise with the IRA in its retalitory actions. The acting is of a very high order but at times the Irish brogue was difficult to understand and I missed some narrative because of it. The battle scenes are low budget and without any graphic gunshot wounds etc, which is good in that it doesn't delve into bloodiness and detract from the heart of the films story.
 I believe Barley is the highest earning independantly made film in Irish history. For an independant film it is well above average. It explores a period of history that is near on ninety years old and yet would still arouse emotions. I never felt like taking sides and I hope it was the makers intentions. I believe that there was two sides to the story and both are portrayed well here, even though you know where your sympathies lie. It explores the horrors of killing for a cause, the brutality it creates and what it does to those involved.
 In short The Wind That Shakes the Barley is an exceptional film depicting events that are still full of controversy and passion today. It is uncompromising and any viewer whether Irish, English, or not, will 'feel' this film. You cannot help but be involved, but somehow I walked away from it unwilling to blame or judge. On the political level the Britsh got it wrong over hundreds of years. But here we see the impact on the inviduals at the grass level and what they endured for the decisions of those in power.
 I liked Barley alot as it is a powerful film that just has to be seen. Keep your politics at the door and watch it with an open mind. It is historical and not political in nature, and hence a great watch for it. It is the type of film that puts you into the characters shoes and intellectually engages you one way or another.
Click here for a synopsis and more:
Here for more:

No comments:

Post a Comment