Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach, 2007) [7]

What Loach does here is very skillful, in that he starts one way (Irish vs. British) and ends up in a completely unexpected place (Irish vs. Irish). The material he's working with is very incendiary, especially if approaching the events with sympathy for the Irish as I was. The film is an unsparing look at all sides of the Irish fight for independence at Great Britain, which Loach turns a critical eye all forces fighting in the struggle. The British occupying force is rightfully vilified, but Loach doesn't let the IRA off that easy either. There are scenes involving them that are just as cold-blooded and villainous as anything the Black & Tans did. That involves the Irish killing their own, as one thing the film does well is shift the identities of those fighting around as events in the film progress. Loach keeps the focus on this by focusing mainly on two characters, a set of brothers, Teddy, more in love with power than ideals, and Damien, the young doctor turned idealist. It's this amorphous identities of the characters that is interesting, especially when Teddy gets into power. The other interesting twist is how Damien moves from nationalist to socialist by the end. There's no denying that the poor where the ones behind the nationalist uprising, but the church and other factors suppressed the socialist tendencies of some especially after Ireland gained some autonomy. This clash of ideals the idealism of Teddy and the compromised power of Teddy is a real interest facet but only comes up in the end. It helps redeem the film a bit, as the second half gets bogged down in two much dissection of ideology and talking. It almost takes the film out of the intense fighting sequences that Loach has established in the first half. Still, he handles the material more than admirably and has made a film that doesn't try to sugarcoat history.

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