Friday, August 28, 2009

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

At the first look, The Wind That Shakes the Barley might seem hard to appreciate because of its one-sided depiction of the events we see in the film. However, on a second thought, Ken Loach's gem manages to use that one-sidedness to its advantage in order to give to itself some depth. All in all, this is not your usual historical drama.

During the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), Damien O'Sullivan (Cillian Murphy), a doctor, leaves his reluctance aside and decides to join the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Like his brother, Teddy (Padraic Delaney), who's in charge of the IRA's local flying column in County Cork, Damien dreams of an Ireland free of British rule. At the end of the war, Ireland becomes an independent republic under the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

However, to Teddy's surprise, Damien and other people are against the treaty. In fact, since they want full independence from Great Britain, Damien and his followers are angry that Ireland is considered as a British dominion that has the Queen as its head of state. As Ireland enters into the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), those who are against the Agnlo-Irish treaty won't hesitate to attack the Irish army. Besides, the bond between Damien and Teddy is tested by the events.

Like I said, I went quite close to loathing this film. As a matter of fact, at the beginning, the film presents a "black-and-white" vision of the war of independence. This means that the film absurdly vilifies the British army while it seems to condone the IRA's response to "savagery" by "savagery". After all, are historical films not supposed to aim for objectivity? Well, while we think about it, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is one of the few historical films that has the right to turn to one-sidedness.

In fact, the one-sided presentation of the Irish War of Independence brilliantly paves the way to the film's second half, which is the Irish Civil War. This means that while Teddy and Damien were united by a dream of freedom at the beginning, they won't, after the ratification of the treaty by Ireland, concur with each other on the way that very dream should be lived. Through the division of the Irish public opinion, Teddy accepts the treaty. As a nationalist, he certainly doesn't like the treaty's content, but he sees it as one step before total independence. As for Damien, he represents the Irishman who doesn't give up on his dream even if it means fighting his own fellow countrymen.

Finally, one must admit that the film's first half constitutes a bold approach by director Ken Loach to make a historical film. With that said, it's really in the second half that the film gets truly interesting. In short, the film is quite well written, well acted and offers a different experience for those who like historical films.

Rating: 4/5

Origin:Ireland/UK/Germany/Italy/Spain/France (2006)
Length:127 minutes
Genre:Historical drama
Screenplay:Paul Laverty
Director:Ken Loach
Starring:Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham and Orla Fitzgerald

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