Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

Lacking Objectivity

- The events of the Irish/British conflicts of the earlier part of the 20th Century seem to continue to create strong reactions from both sides even into the early 21st Century. However, I am an American and have the great fortune of watching Ken Loach's 2006 film The Wind That Shakes The Barley without any strong feelings coming in. The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a film about two brothers who find themselves on opposing sides in the Irish Civil War. I had wanted to see this film for a while since it won Best Picture at the Cannes Film Festival, I have an interest in Irish History, and because Michael Collins (1996 - a great film about the same era) is one of my very favorite films.

After having seen the film I will just come out and say it: The Wind That Shakes The Barley seemed VERY one-sided. It looks to me like the film is painting a bad picture for the British and the Free State supporting Irish meanwhile painting a flagrant rose garden of a picture of the Anti-Treaty IRA.

One example of this one-sided portrayal of the era is how the film portrays the British as nothing short of vicious monsters. I am certain of the existence of British-committed atrocities in Ireland at the time but the one-sided portrayal in this film does not fly with me. In Neil Jordan's 1996 film about the era, Michael Collins, the British are portrayed as antagonists to be sure, considering the side that the film is being told from, but the British are not portrayed in Michael Collins with such unreasonable malice as they are here in The Wind That Shakes The Barley. In this film, the British are constantly screaming at everyone, reveling in the torturing and killing of always innocent people throughout the film and not much else. The film does feature one scene where a British soldier says something to the effect of "I'm just a soldier, I'm just carrying out the orders of my government," but then the character continues to mentally torture the main Irish character.

Another example of the one-sidedness of the film is that the Anti-Treaty IRA are shown as always in the moral right - even when they are supposedly forced to execute British soldiers, they are deeply disturbed by it - which is quite the 180 degree difference from the portrayal of the British in the film. Also, every time the film features a debate between the Free Staters and the Anti-Treaty IRA, the Anti-Treaty IRA side would always have more to say, have the last word, and get away with saying extreme comments. A perfect example of this is the main character (Cillian Murphy), being of course an Anti-Treaty IRA member, gets away with calling himself a "realist" for falling into communist beliefs.

Also, this film misleads an important fact about the Irish Civil War! One scene features an upset group of Anti-Treaty IRA seemingly instigating a conflict by retaliating against the Free State Irish after the Free Staters had killed a bunch of their fellow IRA members at the Four Courts in Dublin. What the film does not tell you, however, is that those Anti-Treaty IRA were killed because they took over the Four Courts first, inciting the Free State Irish government to act after giving several opportunities for the IRA to leave the building. Naturally, the film also does not tell you that if the Free State Government did not act on the Four Courts situation, the British planned to do it themselves.

While the film has some real good performances from much of the cast and some beautiful scenery, I do not think that this film was filmed in any interesting or special way, that the script is expertly written, or that the music is all that good. In fact, I cannot help but think that this film won the Golden Palm purely for its warped message. In the end, I think The Wind That Shakes The Barley needs to be viewed with scrutiny and an Irish History book - if at all.

CBC Rating: 4/10

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