Friday Film Review -- "Belfast"
This week’s film is Belfast, writer/director Kenneth Branagh’s coming of age story set in Northern Ireland’s capital city.
Sir Kenneth Branagh sets what he characterizes as a semi-autobiographical story in Belfast in 1969 at the beginning of the Troubles, a devastating time of conflict and violence between Unionists and Nationalists, Protestants and Catholics. But the Troubles are by no means the focus of this film. The city of Belfast’s decent into military lockdown is merely the backdrop for a sentimental look back upon boyhood memories. Memories of a first crush, bombastic Sunday sermons, family triumphs and failures, and words of wisdom from compassionate grandparents. This is an important distinction to recognize upfront, because otherwise this film is ripe for technical criticism of its execution, shallow metaphors, classic film clips and even over-bearing music. Taken in this childhood context, however, which Branagh successfully conveys like a lyrical and theatrical reading of poetry, Belfast seeks to move its audience more in the vein of Cinema Paradiso than Jim Sheridan’s much more poignant In America. Branagh wants us to feel the events of the day like this little boy Buddy, played by newcomer Jude Hill. Buddy lives on an ideal neighborhood street where everyone looks after one another, but his urban sanctuary is threatened by a number of new forces beyond his comprehension. His parents and grandparents, played wonderfully by Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, and Ciaran Hinds, remain anchors of support but Buddy’s eyes are gradually opened to various adult imperfections in his would-be-heroes. Facing a decision regarding his own moral compass, Buddy looks to his family to help him navigate a new path. These memories are delivered beautifully in black and white cinematography, doing justice to the vibrant urban streets and grand Irish landscapes alike.
The Van Morrison heavy soundtrack is also critically deployed in this context and the songs are belted out with piercing enthusiasm as you might experience from a family member hearing their favorite song from school in car some thirty years later- punishing captivated siblings on a road trip with gleeful off-key renditions.
So, on my ski trail rating system, Belfast earns my highest Black Diamond Ski Trail rating. Writer/director Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is worthy of its early Oscar-hype. Sir Branagh and an outstanding cast deliver a wonderfully escapist trip down nostalgia lane, as the world continues to struggle with our own lockdown realities.
Belfast is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, language, and extraneous use of cowboy ballads.