fallibilist

"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

"This is a grand honour. Our film is a little step in the British confronting their imperialist history. Maybe if we tell the truth about the past we can tell the truth about the present."
Ken Loach, accepting the Palme D'Ór prize at the Cannes film festival 2006

"There is nothing like a Brit-bashing movie to angry up the blood but scratch the surface and you'll see that Loach's latest opus goes far deeper than your Michael Collins' or your Braveheart's as he makes a comment on every imperial country who invade smaller nations for their own ends."
entertainment.ie review, June 2nd 2006

"All films dealing with Irish republicans show them as tormented idealists who sometimes do things they shouldn't: the British
or unionists are portrayed as cynical, brutal and despicable (for example Loach's Hidden Agenda and Neil Jordan's Michael Collins). So Loach was doing nothing brave in taking a sympathetic look at republicans: he was being morally lazy."
Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Guardian, June 6th 2006
Ken Loach is not a man to keep his political views to himself. He used his Palme dÓr to acceptance speech to draw a parallel between events described in his film The Wind That Shakes The Barley and modern day Iraq. (George Monbiot has drawn a similar parallel.) In the link under the first quote above he is described as a supporter of George Galloway's Respect party. He has openly discussed Northern Ireland in terms even Sinn Fein spokespersons have more or less left behind.

Like Mick Fealty, I have severe doubts about whether any historically meritorious comparison can be drawn between Iraq today and Ireland in 1920-2. Indeed Niall Stanage is also correct to point out that the followers of the late al-Zarqawi in Iraq are, of course, expressly committed to destroying freedom and democracy, of the kind Ireland had pre- and post- the 1921 Treaty. In a sense, therefore, the goals of the two sets of insurgents are irreconcilable. My suspicion is that Monbiot's reasoning - and to the extent that it used such reasoning as a guide - Loach's film are more concerned with modern politics than anything else. As for Ruth Dudley Edwards' quote used above, there is no argument that Loach's film portrays the British officers and soldiers as monstrous individuals - all but irredeemable. At one point a British commander proclaims "My men fought in the Somme!" One feels a pang of sympathy for them in that moment, but any such sentiment is drowned out by what precedes and follows it in the film.

I found the narrative of The Wind That Shakes The Barley simplistic and predictable. I think Loach's political views informed and caused this. And I think the political narrative presented (expressly and implicitly) by the film is what won it the Palme dÓr. The reason I think that is because the film itself, taken on its merits as a cinematic production, is not an outstanding piece of work. It's not dreadful either. It has poignant moments, disturbing moments and some nice camerwork of the beautiful west Cork scenery. Cillian Murphy gives a decent performance. But in places the dialogue is painfully leaden (for example the dialoguea among the young men in the yard after Micheal is murdered by British soldiers), in others the turn of events is utterly predictable. Brother killing brother is too close to cliche as a description of civil war. Also, the entire film seems to drift in and out of acknowledging context.

In the end, my essential complaint about the film is expressed well in Darren Waters' review for the BBC, as follows:

"Paul Laverty's script is one-eyed, and unashamedly so. Loach and Laverty's aim is determinedly political - to show an occupied country which rises up to throw off the yoke of an invading army. It is a clear attempt to find resonance with events in Iraq, with the US in the role of the Empire clinging on to the past.
Such lack of balance, however, results in a one-dimensional script. The British are depicted as cardboard cut-out thugs and the motivation for the protagonists is delivered with a heavy hand when a lighter touch is needed."

6 Comments:

Blogger Simon said...

Brother killing brother is too close to cliche as a description of civil war.

That is not entirely inaccuarte and happen in a great number of cases. Read the sniper by Liam O'Flaherty.

As for correlation between Iraq and Ireland I think there is some.
http://dossing.blogspot.com/2006/06/occupations-in-ireland-and-iraq.html


I quiet like how it should Cillian abandoning Ddemocracy in the Devalera. The people have no right to do wrong type way.

Wed Jun 28, 04:42:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Nift said...

Sorry karole are you a West Brit?You sound like one."Brother killing brother is too close to cliche as a description of civil war".It is not a cliche as it actually happened in reality.The film is balanced and not anti-British.It is merely a concise look at actual events.The black and tans burnt down my great-grandmother's pub in Cork.So yes the tans were thugs

Sun Jul 02, 04:17:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Karole said...

nift,

I hope you'll excuse my confusion with this phrase "West Brit". I've usually heard it used only by Sinn Fein supporters against anyone who seems to utter a word of sympathy, or even balance, when it comes to the British in Ireland. I'm not saying you're a Sinn Fein supporter, but maybe you are. The literal answer to your question is no; I'm born and bred in Cork. I don't deny the Black and Tans did some dreadful and unnecessary things. I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother's pub. Some might call the IRA's 1916-21 campaign dreadful and unnecessary. I wouldn't make that judgment, but I'm open to the suggestion.

As for Loach's film, I did find it remarkably biased. Perhaps some of the British attitiudes to this film have been overly self righteous. Perhaps the events in the film did happen, or events very similar. But that doesn't make this a particularly good film. My conclusion is that it's a fairly transparent attempt to use the Irish insurgency of 1919-1921 as a cipher through which to view different parts of the world today, in particular Iraq. I think that's pretty clear. And I think the people at Cannes approved of that and gave the film the Palme dÓr film for that reason.

I don't want to sound overly critical. We should know our history. We should know the dangers and evils of war. It's not a particularly bad film; in parts I found it compelling, in others I didn't. I just find the director to be a biased and partisan viewer of the period. That comes across in the film.

Wed Jul 05, 02:59:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Justine said...

Actually the term "west brit" is used as a sort of teasing pejorative against those who (though they live in the South) sound, or attempt to sound English. It's a pathetic confusion of national identity, where they feel themselves to be inadequate by virtue of their nationality and pretent to be of another "superior" nationality. It's sad. Most southerners have referred to other southerners as "west brits" at some time or another, it's a tease, just a post-colonial phenomenon which we have all observed. Dying out now as our economy goes from strenght to strenght and Irish people no longer face racism (or internalised racism) and feel positive about their national identity.

Calling someone a west brit does not a Sinn Fein supporter make. Have some sense Nift. If you are not Irish than ask an Irish person what the meaning of "west brit" is. Don't make silly assumptions.

Sat Jul 08, 12:00:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger Justine said...

Should read - "strength" I'm tired and it's late. Going to bed soon.

Sat Jul 08, 12:01:00 AM GMT+1  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY IS FAIRLY EASY ON THE SUBJECT OF BRITISH ATROCITIES IN IRELAND. MY GREAT GRANFATHER FOUGHT IN THE TAN WAR AND IT SHOW'S NOTHING OF WHAT THEY DID. TORTURING MEN YO DEATH OR INSANITY AND EVEN MORE BRUTAL TREATMENT OF PEOPLE. IT ALSO DOES NOT SHOW MUCH OF THE BROADER CONFLICT OR HOW THE IRA COMBATED SUCH SAVAGERY IT JUST FOCUSES ON TWO FICTIONAL BROTHERS. STILL IT'S A VERY GOOD FILM BUT A FILM BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER TOM BARRY IRA FREEDOM FIGHTER IS A BOOK BASED ON FACT AND IS MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN THE FILM. AND AS IS SAID IN THE FILM THE TREATY REFERENDUM WAS NOT THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE IT WAS THE FEAR OF THE PEOPLE AS THE MOST POWERFUL COUNTRY IN THE WORLD THREATENDED WAR IF THEY REJECTED IT AND THE FREE STATERS SAYING THE TREATY IS JUST A STEPING STONE YET IRELAND IS STILL DIVIDED.

Thu Jul 13, 06:25:00 PM GMT+1  

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