This is not the first time a filmmaker has portrayed aspects of his childhood in a film. Not long ago, Alfonso Cuarón did so in Roma ( 2018), a film that won the Oscar for best film in 2019. Something similar is being attempted by Kenneth Branagh with Belfast (2021), an autobiographical film that focuses on the director’s childhood in the late 1960s in the troubled Northern Ireland. The film received 7 Oscar nominations including Best Picture.
Movie Belfast: the sincere and unconditional love of family
Belfast opens with joy, with the innocence of children playing quietly in the streets, with laughter and running around, and with the utmost concern not to be late for lunch. Everything suddenly changes when a group of Protestants start violently attacking the Catholic community in the street. Buddy (a fantastic Jude Hill) lives with his parents (Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe) and older brother on a street in a working-class area of Belfast. Nearby live his grandparents (veterans Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds) with whom the young protagonist has a very close relationship. It is the summer of 1969 in a city that is beginning to suffer the consequences of political tensions.
Kenneth Branagh draws inspiration from his own childhood to offer us a tender and captivating story and to portray, with a certain nostalgia, that sense of protection provided by the family. The sincere and unconditional love that only your own, your parents, your grandparents can give you. The family that can sacrifice everything to guarantee your well-being. The importance of family and education become the main focus of the film. With its endearing, everyday conversations about cinema, illusions, plans, and first loves. And the simple things that bring us joy. There are also, of course, difficulties (debts, parental arguments, social problems) but, beyond dealing with them with despair or violence, the director does so with a hopeful look. The gaze of a child.
Music and photography
At Belfast, Kenneth Branagh has been very successful in the photography of the film with Haris Zambarloukos, who has chosen a black and white, with occasional moments of colour, with which he obtains a magnificent aesthetic result. All this, together with a more than acceptable recreation of the neighbourhood and a brilliant soundtrack, based on music by Van Morrison, make the film a beautiful work from an aesthetic point of view.
An endearing story that doesn’t pretend to give lessons in politics
If viewers think they are in for a history lesson on the conflict in Northern Ireland, they will be sorely disappointed. Belfast does not focus on politics, nor does it delve into the conflict that has been portrayed so many times before on film. It definitely does not. What Kenneth Branagh offers us is the vision of a child, nothing more, nothing less. A boy worried about a classmate liking him or joining his cousin’s gang, who we don’t really know what he does for a living (because it’s secret and we can’t say). All the weight of the narrative falls on the young protagonist.
And there are no more than light touches on the Irish conflict. Branagh avoids talking about terrorism and does not address the political implications. Against the barbarity and darkness of war, the light and innocence of a child. A tender, emotional, captivating and, above all, hopeful look. A refuge from the impending storm. In short: a profoundly everyday film that is brimming with life and that has undoubtedly been made with a great deal of tenderness and care.
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