Much of "Belfast" is set within one small street - occupied by both Protestants and Catholics in an Irish city dogged by rioting in the late 60s. Through the movie, this street becomes a metaphor for the rest of the city - the people who live there embody its routine, rituals, and rifts. For much of the movie, the street is barricaded on either end in an attempt to prevent rioting. Within these confines, we see a jolly and cordial people going about their daily business. Everyone knows everyone and no passerby gets to walk on without hearing an affable greeting. After riots that damage much of the street's homes, the residents bandy together to clean the mess up - their spirit is undiminished.
On this street lives a working class family that we get to meet through the eyes of its younger child, Buddy. Buddy goes to primary school, has a crush on the girl who is the number one in Math, loves to spend time with his grandpa and granny, and wants to be in a school gang. "Belfast" is the story of Buddy's childhood - one that is charming on the surface but surrounded on the perimeter by prolonged strife and potential doom. Just like the street Buddy lives on, and Belfast itself.
The movie follows Buddy and, as is the case with kids, finds itself doing profound exploration and discovery - one that is all perceived through the innocence and stark purity of a nine year old's world vision. Primarily, "Belfast" seeks to ask the perpetual question - What makes a place one's home? Is it the place? The people? The relationships involved? Or is it one's intrinsic filter that embraces a place and its people as their own, despite whatever practical flaws involved? Especially, when the flaws include the prospect of violence and civil unrest. Young Buddy also seems to question the reasons for this violence, or in more intimate terms, what it means to be good or bad or why one has to be either.
Jude Hill is a terrific fit as Buddy, a bubbling bundle of charm, curiosity, and harmless mischief. Any childhood is only as good as the parenting involved - Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe turn in splendid acts as Buddy's Pa and Ma, defiant about giving their kids a peaceful childhood that doesn't rob them of freedoms. Ciaran Hinds and Dame Judi Dench provide excellent supporting anchors to this central family. The movie is a semi-autobiographical take by writer-director Kenneth Branagh, who manages to stay away from overt nostalgia in service of a beautiful narrative. Haris Zambarloukos' black and white cinematography distills an astute clarity - simple and effective, all set to Van Morrison's punchy soundtrack.
Looming over everything in "Belfast" is an inevitable question - can one leave home behind in pursuit of a better life? Will they ever have a home then - finding it hard to assimilate in an alien territory? Or losing one's ability to return home, stranded in the tides of time? At one point in the movie, Dench's character says that there are no roads from Belfast to a promised Shangri-La, a land with the possibilities of paradise. As its closing frames say, "Belfast" maybe the story of those who found those roads, those who haven't, and those who were lost. It is also a wonderful look at those who are making that journey.
"Belfast" is out in theaters now.
One of the peculiar qualities of “A Private War”, a film about a journalist’s life, is that it also becomes the visual embodiment of that journalist’s writing. That writing is laced with amazing clarity, vigor, and poetic calls to action. The journalist is Marie Colvin, a woman of extraordinary conviction and resolve - a daredevil of sorts. She worked for The Sunday Times as a foreign correspondent, covering conflicts and wars around the world, in search of human stories of devastation that are often buried behind military and political cloaks. She waged her own private war, as described in a Vanity fair article, the titular and narrative basis for this movie.
So, “A Private War” draws from Colvin’s writing, reciting it at times to help the viewer get into the psyche of a person who braved a string of truly terrifying experiences. The narrative dwells into Colvin’s evolving rationale as she chooses to ignore fear while repeatedly walking into the line of fire, sometimes literally; all in the pursuit of the truth the world needs to hear, in times when no one else is willing to tell it. At one point, her editor tells Colvin that we need her to go into these war zones because no one else can.
On that note, Colvin’s writing itself is staggering, scalpel sharp, focused, and deep. The movie personifies this in many ways - including the tack-sharp editing which keeps the movie going and the tone tense, pulsating, and edgy. There are a couple of missteps where the film over-stylizes itself to visualize Colvin’s mindset, scrambling its narrative style one too many times. But one can easily ignore these within the larger setup of the film. When it’s not depicting war and its brutalities in honest detail, the movie spends time with the aftereffects and consequences of violence and how it impacts Colvin’s private life in London. There is so much elegance at play, making this film a good companion piece to another similar marvel, “A Thousand Times Goodnight”, starring the ever-fabulous Juliette Binoche.
There’s a second crucial peculiarity to “A Private War”. This is one of those movies where everything else steps aside for a singular, remarkable performance from an actor - in this case, a phenomenal act by Rosamund Pike. It is one of those acts where the actor embodies the person they’re playing - there is some physical transformation, but more so, transformation in how she sounds, moves, laughs, cries, and even just ponders in silence. She brings a ferocious magnetism to the screen, which director Matthiew Heineman duly recognizes and leaves uninhibited.
Every so often, an actor emerges with a sudden burst of energy in their filmography. Maybe they’ve a better agent now or they have turned a corner in their life or career philosophy. Rosamund Pike seems to be on that stride - delivering a string of marvelous films like Gone Girl, Hostiles, Radioactive, and the upcoming I Care a Lot.
“A Private War” has one of those scintillating performances - all in service of the life and work of a terrific woman, Marie Colvin.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
In 2020, you’d be easily forgiven for confusing an article on The Onion for actual news. Or vice-versa. That does not take anything away from the increasing relevance of a publication like The Onion, which has never shied away from using acutely acerbic satire to comment on the political miscreants of the times. This argument about The Onion’s relevance and importance can surely be extrapolated to the general relevance of art forms involving satire, and the larger entity of comedy. Comedians, by way of different media, have always been at the forefront of political activism.
This premise accentuates the timeliness and importance of a film like “Jojo Rabbit”, which is the most inventive form of satirical cinema I have seen that is not a Coen Brothers’ film. I say inventive, because this movie is a careful conception, a work of designed brilliance, a deliberate formulation that ends up being completely uncanny, surreal, and on point. I guess you can say that about all great movies, can’t you?
This inventiveness spotlights how accomplished a creator Taika Waititi (Writer-Director) is. Walking away from the film, it is initially hard to fathom that this very director also made the wacky “Thor: Ragnarok”. On second thoughts though, If you put both of them under a surgical scalpel, you can see the similarities in style - both are films bathing in goofy humor, yet so full of both art and heart. This style becomes especially resonant when applied to the subject of “Jojo Rabbit”.
Atlantic City says so much about two people in a relationship, without saying too much.
A comedy that is fun, while being just good cinema in the first place.