Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The wind that shakes the barley

One great part about getting to know people is to learn about what they like and what they don’t like. All that to say, I would not have picked The wind that shakes the barley on my own. And that would have been a miss.
Directed by Ken Loach, it was released in 2006 and stars Cillian Murphy, the only actor I was barely familiar with in the cast, for having seen him in Inception, where he played Robert Fisher.
The storyline is fairly straightforward: set during the Irish War of Independence (1919 to 1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922 to 1923), it tells the story of two brothers, Damien (Murphy) and Teddy  (Padraic Delaney,   who plays George Boleyn in popular TV show The Tudors), who join the IRA to fight for Ireland's  independence from the UK. The two brothers, who originally fight side by side, find themselves fighting against one another after the signature of a treaty between England and Ireland, which grants "independence" to Ireland, with many conditions attached. The rebels then split into opposed groups and engage in civil war ; men who were just allies turn their weapons against one another, with the pro-treaty fighters using the same tactics of torture and terror against the anti-treaty fighters that the Brits once used against them. This leads to a shattering end that shows the horrible personnal costs of war.

Ken Loach tackles a tough subject and does it well: this is very powerful, uncompromising, moving, violent and disturbing. The British are portrayed as violent brutes who harass and kill Irish civilians as they please and show no remorse. Naturally the viewer takes sides with the Irish characters. Although I do not think it glorifies the IRA either.

Teddy: Such a beautiful room, it's hard to imagine a man's scream from here. Ever seen fingernails ripped out with a rusty pliers, Sir John, hmm? All your learning, and you still don't understand.
Sir John Hamilton: Oh, I understand perfectly, Mr. O'Donovan. God preserve Ireland if ever your kind take control.
Damien: Well you'd better start getting used to the idea.

Then as the violence of civil war escalates, it does not glorify anoyone anymore : as Teddy expresses his concerns that the Brits will come back if the Free State does not manage to solve its issues, he says about his former brothers in arms:
"They take one out, we take one back. To hell with the courts."
To me the movie is less about the politics than the validity of wars, and their human cost : the main characters have known each other forever, but they're fighting a war where, if a person is a betrays the cause, they die. But what happens when the traitor is the guy living nearby, who you played sports with when you were younger?

As Damien put it:
I studied anatomy for five years, Dan. And now i'm going to shoot this man in the head. I've known Chris Reilly since he was a child. I hope this Ireland we're fighting for is worth it.
I cannot comment on the historical accuracy of the film, I do not know enough about History for that. But one thing I liked was the beautiful Irish landscapes, which gave an idea of how the war was entrenched in every layer of the Irish society, and everywhere, no matter how remote.

So all in all, a must-see, a bit more confidential than some other movies featured on this blog, but be prepared for some difficult moments and it is definitely not a film for a romantic and quiet evening at home. But I feel richer having watched it.
To conclude, food for thought:
It's easy to know what you are against, but quite another to know what you are for

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