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May 28, 2007


Movie Review – The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)


The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)

Ken Loach’s newest film is The Wind That Shakes the Barley, winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. This is a sprawling tale of two brothers (played by Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney) in 1920 Ireland, when Ireland was fighting for independence from Britain. Though the roots of tension between the Irish and the British certainly go back further than this era, the film gives us a sense of the character of the contemporary struggles between these countries.

The film really shines in terms of historical and visual appeal. I have never been to Ireland, but I know, from pictures, that it is a stunning country and the landscape comes to life in this film. Throw in a careful eye for detail in recreating the 1920s and it almost makes this film worth seeing for its visual sense.

The plot is somewhat loose as one scene does not seem to naturally flow to another. Usually, I find this somewhat meandering style to be annoying, but it seems to work in this film. This is a film that covers a lot of history and seems to take place over a fairly long period of time. The individual scenes, however, remain memorable and serve to highlight the brutality. In the opening scenes, British soldiers confront several men for illegally taking part in a field hockey game. When one of them refuses to give his English name, they torture him to death.

Brutality is one of the pervading themes throughout the film. But, it seems even more disturbing considering that it is set against an idyllic tone. This really shows in one scene where young boys are trained to crawl through the grass carrying guns. The scene is somewhat funny and light, but the underlying feeling is still disquieting.

There is a twist in the film, which is given away in most of the previews. The twist somewhat highlights one of the problems with the film. With a very loose narrative structure, characterizations seem to fall by the wayside. It is supposed to be significant when certain characters are killed or captured by the British. Unfortunately, it does become somewhat difficult to keep the characters straight. So, while we are supposed to feel remorse, it feels like we know very little about the characters. The twist, which is very much character-driven could be a lot more poignant if we knew a little more about the brothers in the film.

I am not saying that the characters are blank or simplified, but, for me, there was something unsatisfying. I wanted a somewhat deeper connection to the characters. I still enjoyed watching the individual scenes so much that I did not care if the movie had much cohesion. The film is very strong, especially in visual sense and tone, which conveyed sensitivity and horror simultaneously.

3 1/2 stars

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Miriam
    Jun 23 2007

    The historical problem film is a tough genre. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better example than this one. The movie is gorgeous to look at which is a marvelous bonus, but its strength is the clear even-handed presentation of the intellectual origins of a century of Irish “troubles”. It’s the division between the Irish characters, not the conflict with the British, that is the dramatic core.
    It was full of talk and there were too many characters to know any well, but the talk was as passionate as the gunplay and carried me more deeply into their lives than I realized. The surge of intense emotion I felt at the conclusion took me by surprise.
    It is inevitably tragic when people try to settle political disagreements by killing each other. The final scene between the brothers is bitterly ironic if you know how the next few years play out. Both of them are right; the social status quo is maintained and the treaty is renegotiated to achieve complete independence for the Republic. In fact, some in the anti-treaty faction participate in elections and adopt the gradualist approach which eventually succeeds. Of course, not all of them do and you get the IRA – but that’s another movie.