Peaceful streets turned into a war zone. With “Belfast”, in cinemas on March 2, a black and white drama of great intensity, Kenneth Branagh looks back on the Northern Irish violence of the late 1960s, through the innocent eyes of Burdy, a little boy 9 years old.
An intensely personal story
These clashes, the British filmmaker witnessed in his youth. Kenneth Branagh was the same age as his young hero when, with his relatives, he had to leave Belfast to join England in order to escape the “Troubles”, civil war between Catholics, supporters of reunification with Ireland and Protestants , advocates of belonging to the United Kingdom.
From the first minutes of the film, the context is set. Protestants invade the street where Burdy (Jude Hill) and his parents, Protestants and workers live, and attack Catholic families to force them to flee. Then riots break out throughout the city, which takes on the air of a western.
In the midst of barricades, controls and other settling of accounts, this brilliant student, pampered and until then safe, tries to attract the attention of his lover, goes back and forth to his grandparents, hits the balloon, and tries to decipher the pastor’s sermons between two cinema sessions. Kenneth Branagh favors the strength of these moments of life, of joy, more than the tensions, which nevertheless remain palpable.
A high-flying cast
Rhythmed by the scores of Van Morrison, this feature film, which comes out at a time when peace remains fragile in Northern Ireland, is carried by a high-flying cast. We can only salute the sincere performance and all in nuance of the young Jude Hill, and that we discover for the first time playing armed with a wooden sword and a dustbin lid. An object that, moments later, becomes a real shield for him and his mother, played by Caitríona Balfe.
Loving, devoted, and discreetly elegant, she tries to make the right choices when her debt-ridden husband, played by Jamie Dornan, alias Christian Gray in the erotic saga “Fifty Shades of Grey”, is forced to work in England as a carpenter. .
In addition to these two actors of Irish origin, who form a close-knit and authentic couple, we also come across the Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench (“James Bond”), luminous in the role of the grandmother, as well as Ciaran Hinds, the great -father “pop”. This duo greatly contributes to the success of this film mixing humor and emotions, and dedicated “to those who stayed, who left, and to all those who were lost”.
A beautiful photograph
If we liked “Belfast” so much, it is also because the staging is lively, meticulous, and the photography splendid. This one is signed Haris Zambarloukos, to whom we already owe the images of “Crime on the Orient-Express”, “Cinderella”, or even “Thor”. Apart from a few color shots, including the opening scene showing the current city, the film is entirely shot in black and white.
Its visual universe recalls the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneer of street photography, who liked to capture everyday life and ordinary people. “I wanted this ‘Hollywood black and white’ to participate in the mythology of this story, to give the most common environment an epic and glamorous dimension”, explained the Shakespearean director.
Winner of the 2022 Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, “Belfast” also received the Audience Award at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. And it’s a safe bet that other awards will follow.
“Belfast”, by Kenneth Branagh (1h38), at the cinema on March 2.