Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Nathars from Ireland writes..

A work of cinematic brilliance. Will be difficult viewing for many, especially non-Irish I think. It is/will be controversial for political but not for cinematic reasons. It is beautifully crafted and the performances are straight out of the top drawer. Damien and the train driver are very powerfully played, Sinead is a typical young Irishwoman in the drama and is brilliantly portrayed in muted but vital terms. Ken Loach's direction is magnificent and though I do not share his political ideologies, I commend his insights and his talent.

There are huge factual truths behind this film in that it is based around typical events of that period but I do not accept the blatant "baddienss" of the English portrayed here. They were more subtle and humane in many cases and much worse in others. They were just an out of control paramilitary force in a so-called democracy.
For people who are not of my age (55) and not from Ireland, this film probes deep into the heart of the simple times (no running water, no electricity, no telephones, very few automobiles etc.). I felt memories of living in rural Ireland in my early youth in these circumstances, and the emotional memories of uncles and aunts and idyllic childhood summers came flooding through and are still with me as I write this piece.

I feel violated in a very good sense of that word by this film, it burrowed in under my skin and probed my mind like no other piece of cinema has ever done before. I could critique lots of little things but the greatest canvas has a few flaws because it was painted by a man.

This movie is simply the best and in its contrast to the standard Hollywood blockbuster it stands out as extraordinary. Cillian Murphy must be an Oscar contender if the US distributes this film. The jury at Cannes was not wrong, and if Denzel Washington was part of the unanimous vote for the Palm D'Or then maybe there is a market in the US for this one. It might be a slow burner instead of a box-office extravaganza. That is this film's tradegy and Hollywood's triumph of mediocrity over genius. Tinsel rubbish can sell if packaged properly, and greatness can languish for years before being recognised (a la Van Gough). Take your Palme D'Or Mr. Loach & Co. you deserve this much recognition and the grateful thanks of a "middle-class" Irishman who came from humble beginnings. I hope I have not forgotten.

An editorial from a Cork newspaper sums it up well:

This wind shakes more than barley

In Ireland we are in rare position internationally when it comes to our media. Most of what we read, listen to and watch is usually interpreted in two perspectives, through our own media and through that of our near neighbours across the Irish Sea. There are other instances of large and small neighbours with a common language (Germany and Austria; USA and Canada; Australia and New Zealand), but nowhere is the penetration of the larger nation's media into the neighbouring market as pronounced as it is in Ireland. Viewership of UK TV stations and readership of UK owned newspapers in Ireland is at a level that makes them as significant to our view of the world as our own media. This breeds a familiarity with our neighbours that can make us Irish assume the British know as much about us as we do about them. Nothing could be further from the truth however as has been graphically illustrated by the reception given in Britain to Ken Loach's Palme d'or winning movie The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

There is no question that this film makes the British forces look bad, but of course the reality as all Irish people know is that they were. In the UK normally reasonable and intelligent reviewers and commentators cannot cope with this depiction of occupying British forces as violent repressors of a largely defenceless native population. It has been described as unbalanced and portraying the valiant British soldiers in an unfair and unflattering light. The truth is that the vast majority of British citizens couldn't tell you where Galway is and why should they? They're ignorance of their own colonial past so close to home and denial of it shouldn't surprise us; it is not something to be proud of.

This is not to attack Britain, but to remind Irish readers of UK newspapers and viewers of UK television that Britain is indeed a foreign country. They view the world through an entirely different perspective than us, and in truth our views are inconsequential to them. That's why Loach's film, which tells essential truths, will not get a general release in the UK. Despite the fact that Anglo-Irish relations are probably better now than they have ever been the truth about Britain's history in Ireland is something that they just aren't ready for, and probably never will be.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mar Adentro

When you can't escape, and you constantly rely on everyone else, you learn to cry by smiling, you know? -Ramón Sampedro

I had the privilege to watch Mar Adentro last Saturday, and I am still shocked by its beauty, the powerful work of every single actor and actress and Amenabar's unbelievable ability to narrate the story of Ramón Sampedro, who was well known in Spain for asking for a legal euthanasia, lost the court cause, and eventually died in front of a camera drinking a glass with poison, freezing all our hearts with his determination not to go on living forever immobilized because of an accident.
Before watching the movie I was already mesmerized by the strong symbology in its title, which I would translate as "Into the Sea" and which is taken from an original poem written by the man this story is about. Then I watched the movie. Oh my friends. This is Cinema with a capital C. The narration flows to take you to the heart of every single character: Sampedro, reincarnated in a Bardem that you forget from the very beginning, is in the center as a man full of sense of humour and full of hope, and his hope is to die, because for him, the life he is living is not worthy to be lived. The rest of the characters but one dance around him and respect his decision because they see him as a human independent being (forgetting he depends on the others for everything), even though they do love him so much. And this is what the movie is about: love. You can feel it, you can breathe it in the skin of every character. You witness the growing of the feeling within three women who meet him in the movie: Gené, the member of the association that defend his right to die with dignity, his friend, her story in the movie is the hope for us the lucky ones that can live a normal life in this world; Rosa, the woman who meets a good man in the middle of her list of broken relationships and pain in the hands of all the men who used her and despised her; Julia, the woman who shares a tragic destiny with Ramón, and eventually acts in a way we cannot but only understand.
However, before meeting these women Ramón knew what was love like, because you cannot meet him without loving him, and he is deeply loved by his abnegated family: Four characters unique in their humbleness and bravery, each with their own thoughts about his decision, each thought respectable in its own way, because the terrible thing about this story is that nobody is to blame for what happened. That, sadly, life sometimes is that terrible. From this familiar quartet I specially liked Mabel Rivera's work as Ramón's sister in law, Manuela: a terrific performance.
I would like to draw attention to three episodes that are for me the best climax points I have seen in a long time, and if you haven't seen the movie don't read this, pass over this paragraph and read again from the next one starting "Mar adentro", let the movie show its secrets to you. Three episodes I loved were: 3. The best love scene I have seen in a movie, when I really felt love invading the screen, is when Ramón dreams awake that he is flying to meet Julia in the beach and they kiss each other. 2. Gené speaking by phone with Ramón, the day before he is going to do it, and he tells her it is better they say goodbye at that very moment, not to put her in trouble with the authorities. And then she knows it is the last time they are going to talk, and she has fought for his right to die... but she does not want to lose him, because she loves him as a true friend, and even though she is respecting his decision at all cost. 1. The best. A young Ramón in the beach, looking at his girlfriend under the sun, jumping to the water from the rocks to a sea that is retreating. We see the crash, we hear his voice recalling what happened and claiming he should have died that very moment. The face of Bardem, face downward, shown to us from the bottom. And the hand of a friend who pulls him from the forehead and brings him back to a life that will be a hell for him in the next 30 years. There are many others, like the impressive ending, in spite of the fact that in Spain we know too well what Ramon did.
Mar adentro did not deceive me, but the director has to thank the actors that took part in the project, and who maybe took it personally, because this is not just a movie, it is an elegy to a man who died alone when he was asking to die "legally", which meant for him, as Bardem pointed out, dying with the people he loved and who loved him around.