The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) or Two Brothers Torn Apart by the Irish Civil War

The Wind that Shakes the Barley opens on a group of young men joyfully playing a game of hurling. After the game has ended we watch them return home to their modest houses. Some are still standing  together smoking and  talking, when all of a sudden a group of British soldiers approaches out of nowhere confronting them with the fact that they did break the law.  Meetings are strictly forbidden and even a game of hurling is considered to be an assemly and thus a possible act of rebellion. The scene heats up immediately when the young men answer in Gaelic upon being asked their names. The episode ends in a blood bath, one of the young men being beaten to a pulp and dead.

This is shocking. One can hardly believe one’s eyes since this is no invention. The British subjugated the Irish fiercely and anything resembling rebellion from their side ended in severe punishment.

Ken Loach´s movie The Wind that Skakes the Barley (the title is taken from an Irish Ballad)  embraces both moments in Irish history, first The Irish War of Independence and then The Irish Civil War. At the core of the story that is set in county Cork are the two O´Donovan  brothers, Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney). At the onset of the war Damien is about to leave his native Ireland for  London where a position as a doctor at a hospital is waiting for him. Seeing the brutality and the cruelty his people face and knowing that his brother will be leading a guerilla party, he stays to join them. At that time the British government sent the  so-called “Black and Tans” to brutally reinforce their power. The old IRA started to strike back.

After long months of heavy fighting they were asked to sign a treaty which would guarantee the Irish their own government and established the Irish Free State. However six Northern counties would stay within the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.  This is the moment when the Civil War erupts and Pro Free State (headed by Michael Collins) troops fought the Anti-treaty forces. In the movie the tragedy unfolds as the brothers go different ways. Teddy accepts and supports the Free State  while Damien wants to fight until all of Ireland is  free. He believes that they have fought in vain if they give up now. It is unbelievable but the Civil War cost finally more lives than the War of Independence.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley was as  hard to watch and as depressing as L´armée des ombres. The methods applied resemble those applied by the French Resistance. They wouldn’t even shy away from killing their own in the event of betrayal. We also see people being shot and people being tortured.

This movie is also hard to watch since it reveals a really ugly aspect of the British Empire. If you are British this will be hard to accept, if you like the British it will be equally hard and if you are Irish this will truly infuriate you. One can simply not understand why the Empire had to make  the already impoverished, famished and sick Irish suffer so much. I read that this part of their history  is not really taught in English schools. I think many English people would be shocked and astonished when they see this and might understand a lot better what was ultimately behind the Troubles.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is very intense. The pictures of the beautiful, lush green countryside contrast starkly with the brutalities depicted. The story of the two brothers who end up torn apart by their conflicting ideals is very tragic. and both actors do a great job

There is no doubt that this movie deserved the Palme d´ Or it won in 2006. Even though I am sure the movie could not cover all the aspects and the whole complexity of the Wars, it raises the awareness. It´s simply stated a brilliant movie. But it is not entertaining for one second. Harsh but recommended viewing really.

Advertisements

Brothers (2009): Post-traumatic Stress Unrealistically Embedded

I am in two minds about Brothers. In parts I liked it in parts it made me frown at the amount of implausible details. Escapism built on a serious topic.

A young Captain, Sam (Tobey Maguire), married to a lovely wife (Natalie Portman), is sent back to Afghanistan where he was stationed many times before. Just before he leaves his delinquent older brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. Shortly after arriving back in Afghanistan Sam´s helicopter is shot down. Two officers are sent to inform his wife, Grace, of Sam´s death.

From that moment on Tommy changes a great deal and  assists the young woman and her two little daughters wherever he can. Soon they become close friends. Tommy and Grace discover that they have quite a lot in common despite not having liked each other in the beginning.

What none of them knows, Sam is a POW. During the months of his captivity he has to endure torture and cruelties. In the end he is even forced to do something he won´t be able to forgive himself. When he is finally freed he is not the man he used to be. He is withdrawn and doesn’t talk. He seems to suffer a great deal and accuses his wife and his brother of having had an affair. The situation grows more and more acute until it escalates in the end.
I do not deny that I liked watching this movie since it is a well done production. The score is nice, Jake Gyllenhaal is convincing (but then I have been his fan ever since I watched Donnie Darko), the pictures are appealing, individual scenes are captivating. Nevertheless this is not a good movie. Many details are highly unrealistic. The way the soldiers get captured is not convincing nor is the fact that Sam is reported to be dead and not just MIA. His wife never even questions this although nothing has been found of him or his belongings. His return is also very abrupt. No questions are asked and he seems to not be getting proper treatment even though he shows signs of severe post-traumatic stress.

All these elements are quite anachronistic. Relics of another time, a time when there was hardly any psychological treatment available and the awareness of PTSD was very low. You might expect this in a Vietnam movie, but not in one dealing with a contemporary conflict.
The dynamics of a dysfunctional family are shown convincingly. The father, a  Vietnam vet with an alcohol problem, plays the two brothers off against each other. Obviously he favours the one who opted for the same career. The development of Tommy´s character is also very well done. He becomes more and more endearing towards the end of the movie.
Tobey Maguire playing a  Captain is not credible at all. I just did not buy it. He should have played a lower rank. He seems far too young to be a captain.
This movie is for Jake Gyllenhaal Fans, people, who go for dysfunctional family stories and all those who would like to see a movie where the key message is: You will be healed as soon as you can talk about the shit you have done and been through.

All those who would like to see a realistic coming-home story of a war veteran should not go for it. The aim of this movie was to be dramatic, not realistic.

Since this movie seems to be an American remake of a Danish movie I might try to see the other one. It would be interesting to see how that was handled.