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Culture Reviews
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Until November 19, 5 Stars - Novokuznetskaya

Directed by Ken Loach. Written by Paul Laverty. Starring: Cilian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunnigham, Orla Fitzgerald. 127 mins. Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Ireland, UK.

By Erik Jansma

Review Top Sheet: This movie was banned from many theatres in the UK, but featured prominently on the British Film Festival in 35mm’s big hall. Winning a Golden Palm in Cannes and labelled as “Anti-British” by many, it’s safe to call “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” a controversial film.

It tells the story of the Independence War that the Irish fought between 1919 and 1921 against the British rule and is based on facts. Director Ken Loach hasn’t tried to hide the ugliness of both the Black & Tan forces and the IRA itself, which means that this movie is raw, violent and sad. At the same time, it is interesting and makes a good philosophical point about how thin the line between freedom-fighting and terrorism is.

Will you like this film?

Yes if:You like history and don’t mind to be confronted with very ugly human behaviour.
No if: You just want to catch an easy flick to brighten up the rainy Sunday afternoon.
Maybe if: Your autumn depression isn’t deep enough.

Comments:Not the easiest movie to watch for sure, but worth the effort of doing so. “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” is as long as its title suggests and the contents is as easy to digest as raw potatoes. Hence the lengthy review in front of you.

35MM’s Bolshoi Zal was filled at the beginning of the movie, but quite some people decided not to stick around to join in on a deserved applause. I guess the movie is maybe too confronting (either politically or graphically) for the faint of heart or too long if the subject doesn’t interest you.

Provided you’re ready to stick around for two hours and close your eyes and ears at some moments, you are in for a movie that will make you reconsider who is right or wrong in the conflicts in the world today. Heavy stuff? Yep, definitely.

Out-of-five star ratings:
Story: ****

Story Comments: Paul Laverty, the writer of the story, has found an interesting mix between summing up historical events and the personal stories of people that were involved into these events.

As for the “facts”, we are confronted with a British Black & Tan force that is cruel beyond imagination. Ken Loach hasn’t tried to paint a pretty picture for sure, and as a viewer, you must be prepared for some scenes that you may find disgusting. There’s one particular scene that you will remember (believe me) and that one was enough for some people to leave 35mm’s big hall. The IRA is portrayed as a non-professional guerrilla movement that quickly learns the tricks and trade of intimidating and liquidating the enemy. Don’t expect them to be Robin Hoods: the eye-for-an-eye mentality and the demand for absolute loyalty of the IRA led to many deaths amongst both the British and the Irish. There is no winning spirit in this movie, and it looks like Ken Loach has tried to emphasize the view that in a war, there are no winners. Doing this, he has refrained from making the IRA look any prettier than they were in the conflict, even though the story is definitely pro-Irish and takes a clear political side.

The film zooms in on a small IRA cell and its members, especially two brothers. With every military win and loss in the story comes the need to choose between personal loyalty and loyalty to the political objective. These choices, often of a “live or die” nature, are painful and may lead to unexpected outcomes. In the small community of the featured faction, no-one remains unaffected and everybody suffers from inflicted pain or inflicting it. This layer of the story makes the movie more than just a flick with facts. The sadness is almost tangible, not in the least thanks to the outstanding acting performance of a relatively unknown cast.

Dialogue Comments: Needless to say that all the shown violence needs some explanation by those committing it or suffering from it. Again, the British aren’t given a platform in the film, but the Irish side is already enough food for thought, as they aren’t angels either.

Historically correct, but slightly hindering in a movie that has only Russian subtitles, is the heavy Gaelic accent of most actors. It’s not going to prevent you from getting the point of the film, but I’d recommend you to practice some Russian reading skills or head to an Irish pub beforehand (stay sober).

Most of the time, the dialogs naturally fit in into the story. There are some scenes (like the one in the court) that are used for elaborate discussions. These are the moments that Loach is really trying to get his view across to the public. Especially in the mentioned scene, it looks like he has worked from a synopsis rather than a scene script, as the actors are allowed to stutter and stumble over their words, making it the more emotional and sincere. So it looks like there was room for some improvisation for the cast. Otherwise, it may be a case of under-rehearsal that worked out surprisingly well.

Substance Comments: “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” provides an interesting view on the ideological motives that shaped the Irish Republican Army in the Independence War, only to be split after the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty, eventually resulting in the provisional underground IRA that became notorious for their violent methods.

It’s not to say that you’ll become to like “the IRA as we know it now” after seeing this movie, but you’ll at least understand a bit about why there was still an army after the treaty and what drove them. On a slightly different level, the movie shows how brutal treatment of people makes fanatic freedom fighters out of them. And –at least to me- this is an interesting point, not often made by film-makers. To put it bluntly: this movie could feature the Vietcong, PLO or some other contemporary freedom fighters and still tell the same story.

It’s this universality that makes the movie almost scarily relevant for the present day. “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” is therefore a warning that hopefully sticks in the memory of those who watch it: violence breeds violence.

Filmcraft comments: As mentioned in the dialog section, the mostly Irish cast is impressive. Cilian Murphy (Red Eye, 28 Days Later) is the biggest name on the cast payroll and has already proven to be a versatile actor, yet in this role he impresses again. His character has to deal with some impossible situations and Murphy makes him look credible. Co-star Padraic Delaney makes his international debut on the silver screen and uses natural charisma to shape his role of future leader of the IRA. We could go through each name and comment on his or her contribution, but it suffices to say that the cast was obviously motivated.

Ken Loach is always motivated and socially engaged, so much is clear from his previous films, such as Navigators, McLibel and 11’09”01 – September 11. He is to continue his collaboration with Paul Laverty, which is due to result in some interesting material. Social engagement is however no excuse for anachronisms and other goofs. Like: if a soldier falls down after being shot, let us at least hear that shot. Or: in the 1920s there were no PVC window frames. If you want to be taken seriously, make sure that at least no-one can get you on this type of unnecessary failures. Apart from that, thumbs up!

A taste of the story: And so I said, "The mountain glen / I'll seek at morning early / And join the brave united men" / While soft wind shook the barley

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