Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Wind that shakes the Barley: A historical melodrama that fails to sustain its inner meaning


The new film of Ken Loach is narrating a part of the history of Irish and British combat. It starts demonstrating the British regime of violence and oppression that eventually pushes the Irish peasants over the limit and drives them into resistance and action. Young boys, farmers are trained by IRA in order to sabotage and kill English soldiers. Killing the others, the Englishmen, is relatively easy for these lads that have been filled with hate and anger after years of mistreatment. Eventually the English army withdraws. A new conflict begins- this time- among the Irish. A civil war is always described as a war between brothers and this is also demonstrated in the Ken Loach film. The two brothers- the main film characters- take the opposite sites and the one is eventually executed by the other.

The story of Ireland has been fairly developed and exposed in film. In these films even a foreigner can read the signs of a very painful history and sense that the scars haven’t faded away yet. The well-directed story of the recent history of Ireland might be a good film by itself for those who have a special interest and emotional connection to the particular historical period (Irish and British) for the rest of the world though something is missing. Everybody knows that a war is a painful situation and that a civil war is even worse. Most of us suspect that in these circumstances right is lost. All sides have their own right. Why do we need another film to state all the same old and familiar truths?

Ken Loach manages to impress on his film all the markings of a good director: beautiful images, careful framing, suspense and good rhythm, emotionality. The film however has a fling for melodrama, and ends up being a little bit vacant. When you watch it you are sufficiently drawn into it but when the film finishes what does remain? Unfortunately nothing lingers. Ken Loach fails to create a film that will take all these well-known and accepted truths and make us see them in a new enhanced light, make us think them over one more time, experience again and acknowledge them from the beginning. It is a pity because these truths are really important and we shouldn’t forget them or take them as given.

5 comments:

Sean O'Donovan said...

Thanks for your very interesting review Helen.
But I don't think that "The story of Ireland has been fairly developed and exposed in film." This period - the War of Independence which followed the 1916 Easter Rising, the brutality of the Black & Tans and the Civil War - is virtually unknown in particular to the English. Also in Ireland this history (and the Famine) has not often been discussed openly because it was too recent and too painful.

Panagiotis Hatzigiannis said...

If the Irish civil was is unknown to the "global" audience then what about the Greek civil war (or others…).
My opinion is that a lot of people outside Ireland and UK know who Michael Collins was.

Sean O'Donovan said...

In the aftermath of a civil war people (like my 2 uncles who were on opposite sides) have to find a way of living together - sometimes in the same house.

Maybe a timescale of 80 years allows for the people involved to have passed away. A film about the Greek civil war of 1946-49 may therefore be timely in 20 years.

Panagiotis Hatzigiannis said...

probably :)

On Cinema and...other said...

I am very impressed. I thought that few people had ever heard about the Greek civil war and the English involvement to it. It is true that it might be too soon for a film on the civil war here in Greece especially if you think that the situation was resolved any after the end of the dictatorship in the 70’s. Until any remark on the subject was forbidden. The problem, however, is that Greece doesn’t have film industry and no one will ever make a film like this for Greece. The fact that you speak English is an advantage in this case. A film in English has automatically a wider audience and better chances of distribution. And we have plenty of examples of films that are centered on Irish History: Michael Collins, In the name of the Father, Bloody Sunday and others probably that I can’t remember now. Under these circumstances I would say that the subject is fairly well shown in film. Maybe I am naïve for thinking that some of these films were successful enough to have made a known the political subject of Ireland. But let’s drop politics for a moment! Did you like the film yourself?
And let me make some amends here. I thought that the film hade some good elements. Good directing, good acting and a fairly good description of the historical situation. According to me though, it remains a rather weak film. It discusses such important issues but it doesn’t manage to impassionate you. And that’s a big flaw! Bloody Sunday and In the name of the father were much stronger and passionate films.
Thanks a lot for your comments and I hope that I will be seeing more in the future
Helen