DIRTY OLD TOWN
Buddy plays in front of his house, in a quiet working-class street in the protestant Northern Irish city of Belfast. He lives in the best of worlds: that of his childhood, where the villains are punished and the heroes always triumph in the end – especially his parents and grandparents. But the adult world takes him and his family like a tsunami when a wave of Protestant rioters burst into the neighborhood and attack the Catholic minority. Buddy discovers the violence, and unknowingly steps into the deep end, while his family, tolerant of Catholics although itself Protestant, becomes a target.
Father and mother, these heroes
Let’s not tell stories, for Ecran Large, the success of esteem enjoyed by Kenneth Branagh is more the result of a misunderstanding than anything else. After having torched with more or less success a few mothball adaptations of Shakespeare, the filmmaker has rather shown his almost total inability to put anything correctly in imagesof The Ryan Initiative passing through the last two films on Hercule Poirot, Thoror Artemis Fowl. So many prodigious caroms in front of which we stop like onlookers, enjoying an unhealthy fascination for the worst while praying that this will not happen again in human history.
Except that not only Belfast holds the road, but in addition it convinces, almost reluctantly from the spectator who would expect a kind of navel-gazing, stuffy and depoliticized exercise, draped in a shape that one would think was made to lure the academic barge and win a few Oscar statuettes.
Be careful, there is this despite everything. Let’s be clear, Belfast is a totally innocuous work that dabbles in most Oscar film cliches. And the operation seems to have worked since Belfast received seven nominations, including that in the category of best film, the supreme award. Confirming that the Kenneth Branagh misunderstanding still works – without much explanation – but that he also has a bright future ahead of him.
DEATH TO MY HOMETOWN
But honor to all lords: as long as one tastes a certain academic classicism, Belfast is a success, and we owe it mainly to the approach adopted by Kenneth Branagh of his subject, humble and self-effacing. Although drawing inspiration from his own journey (he and his Protestant family having fled Belfast when he was nine years old), he has the elegance to step back from his own narrative in favor of a story of which he is the protagonist, but not the subject. An approach that avoids egotistical delirium, but above all gives a lot of credit to Buddy, a child character whose distorting gaze will serve as a formal and narrative common thread.
The string is known, the figure of Candide is particularly practical for underlining the absurdities and injustices of the world, and what could be more candid than a child – a fortiori, the child that one oneself was. A very Spielbergian process and tone in spirit, of which we know the main limit when they are badly dosed and especially overdose, called in scholarly terms pathos, or in simpler terms, the big wet feeling to make people cry in the cottages.
However, by presenting his characters not as immaculate everyday heroes, but simply as individuals doing what they can to get through a period of crisis without losing their compass and their moral integrity, Branagh manages to avoid scriptwriting facilities. Above all, he manages not to reduce his description of a particularly troubled period of conflict a simple conflict between good guys and bad guys. Even if it means neutralizing his point of view and pouring into the odorless consensus.
It is the other side of the coin or the defect of the aforementioned quality, which prevents Belfast to establish itself as a memorable viewing: Kenneth Branagh manages to universalize his remarks in a rather beautiful way, but loses flavor and soul in the process. Too bad, because by placing himself on the side of the oppressors opposing the persecutions, he had enough to offer a work whose relevance would go beyond simply echoing in the void a modern concern. But the instrumentalization of religion to justify acts of community violence will only be illustrated by the filmmaker, if not directly questioned. That’s not bad, but a shame nonetheless.
DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
For the rest, Belfast aligns all the classic qualities of a classic movie made by a filmmaker with classic influences. Controlled and efficient cutting if not meaningful, rhythmic and taking editing if not striking, all sprinkled with a few formal audacities bringing a little variety and cinematography if not offering a real aesthetic bias beyond with an entertaining Cartier-Bressonian mannerism. Simple, basic as the other would say, even if several scenes produce their small effect in the absence of transport.
We will stop all the same on the casting and the direction of actors. Nothing surprising on the part of Kenneth Branagh, himself an actor and a man fond of the theatre, as in almost all of his works, he makes actors and their performances his best weapon to rise slightly above the competition. We will be particularly grateful to him for having offered us an endearing child-actor despite his too perfect face. For the rest, Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are brilliant as usual, Jamie Dornan proves that he is much more than the ordinary handsome boy of 50 shades of grayand Caitriona Balfe stands out as the true treasure of the film.
Small wink also highly appreciable: the soundtrack, taking up the standards of the native of Belfast and absolute legend of Irish music Van Morrison (before his shipwreck in demented conspiracy theories), which brings an enormous Springsteen breath of fresh air. A strong use of his music, whose texts firmly anchor Belfast in his working-class universe, and whose ample orchestrations accompany the upset feeling of a Buddy in full construction of his personal mythology. A very appreciable pinch of salt to give a little flavor and energy to a copy of a good student who is too wise.
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Belfast: Oscar bait review