It is almost irresistible to compare a film like Belfast with another of a similar nature such as Rome by Alfonso Cuaron. Both share that nostalgic feeling that recalls the past as if it were a parade of black and white postcards. But, above all, they are similar in portraying in the background the sociopolitical conflicts of their historical context. However, where both find a big difference is in the way they tell their stories. While the Mexican is raw, realistic and reconstructs the past with millimetric perfectionism, the second almost drinks from magical realism, an artistic movement (especially pictorial) that adorns the truth. In this case the illustration of a childhood.
Almost seen and told through the eyes of a child, it is like Kenneth Branagh’s film presents Belfast in 1969. The opening film with a nine-year-old boy named Buddy (Jude Hill) who spends his afternoons playing with his neighbors. block. Everything seems to be going relatively well until Molotov cocktails, burning cars and screams invade his street before his astonished eyes. Protestant religious fanatics thus deliver a message: they are not willing to share the neighborhood with Catholics.
The conflicts of a turbulent Northern Ireland during the late sixties, frame the childhood memories of its director. Although for the most part all the events experienced by a Branagh under ten are told accurately, the look is faithful to the impression that the filmmaker had during that moment of his life. That is why the conflict that Buddy’s parents (Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe) experience over whether to stay in their homeland or cross the sea to English territory to escape religious revolts, reach the minor with fear and frustration, instead of as a solution.
The father must be absent for long periods of time to attend to work matters on the British Isle. His return to his house is always a cause for celebration for Buddy. His arrival is framed by the camera as if he were a superhero. Although he is in a certain way, it is the child’s eyes that enhance this sensation. And it is precisely the impressions of a nine-year-old boy that populate each of the scenes and moments of the story.
Haris Zambarloukos’s photography is an accomplice to this. The black and white images of him play various narrative motifs. The natural thing would be to think that colors announce the past and nostalgia. But above all they work to highlight the setting of a neighborhood that speaks of a working social class. The frames place the characters from perspectives that are impressionable if understood through Buddy’s eyes. So Jamie Dornan is captured from below to endow him with greatness and strength. Or Caitriona Balfe is portrayed by the lens with an unprecedented beauty that is only understood by a child in love with her mother.
The minor’s grandparents are also part of this set of perspectives. But above all, these two are the ones who are the most endearing characters because they give off that hint of complicity and affinity they have with their grandson. His parents are portrayed in the film as unattainable heroes, but his grandparents are actually his confidants and best friends. Of course the performances of Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench are fundamental. It is not strange that both were nominated for an Oscar when their interventions are so warm and endearing, and the best dialogues come from their mouths.
The camera also does a good job of portraying spaces with beauty and wide frames. With beauty to highlight how in the eyes of a child, his street, his home and the way to his school can never be unpleasant. Open frames make every classroom, movie theater, or public hospital community room look bigger and more impressionable than it really is.
A) Yes Belfast it is a film that escapes absolute objectivity and falls in love with the viewer with nostalgia and a feeling of warmth. Despite the many sequences of riots, fights between parents, or the loss of loved ones, other memories weigh more heavily. The afternoons in front of the television with star trek; visits to the cinema where it seemed that magic passed through the screen; family gatherings in backyards; or even the first prick of love between school desks.
Kenneth Branagh delivers with Belfast perhaps his most mature film. We already mentioned in the text dedicated to another of his films –death on the nile (2022)- that his cinema is characterized by narrative conventions and his adherence to the manual. The above is not a bad thing. It has worked throughout his career with tapes that exude that romantic current, almost shakespearean that adheres to a cinematographic formality as functional as it is successful.
However, with Belfast Branagh gets out of the way. That romantic feeling is exponential, but avant-garde at the same time. For the first time he takes risks and plays with different nuances that make the work more attractive. For example, instead of a great orchestral soundtrack, composed by his trusty Patrick Doyle, the film gets a collection of hits from the era. Especially songs by Van Morrison, a singer also born in Belfast whose hits have been companions for generations.
But above all the director hits all the right keys with Belfast, because it is a touching film. One that makes her audience fall in love with simpler and more sincere tricks. From the portrait of experiences that, regardless of the time, are universal for any viewer anywhere in the world. Although this film does not find the lost quintessence of cinema, it is a warm and tender work with which it is almost impossible not to give up. No one should be surprised that it is the big winner of the next installment of the Oscars.
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Luis Angel H Mora My Hogwarts letter never came, so I focused my life on movies. I like to write, Harry Potter, Doctor Who and parties where I wear an astrologer. John Williams and The Killers musicalize the drama of my life.