Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Belfast

♣♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Belfast, 1969. Buddy (Jude Hill) is a nine-year-old boy belonging to a Protestant working class family who witnesses the horrors of The Troubles as Catholics are rounded up in the predominantly Protestant province of Ulster in Northern Ireland. Despite the ruckus, he can always count on the support of his family: his Pop (Ciarán Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench); his brother Will (Lewis McAskie); and his strong-willed Ma (Caitríone Balfe). His Pa (Jamie Dornan), they only see once every two weeks as he works across the sea in London. As the commotions begin to escalate and the street they live in is barricaded as the army is sent in to maintain peace and order, the family will be forced to face the music of the current socio-political turmoil. Should they risk it and make it work as a separated family in Belfast or accept the offer of Pa’s company to relocate to and be a whole family again in England?

Funny. Touching. Gorgeous in black and white. Belfast serves as director Kenneth Branagh’s love song to his origins as well as his ode to the events in the region back then that eventually pushed his family to pack and find a new home across the water. Anchored on the perspective of a young boy watching history unfold before his eyes, Belfast is a heartfelt coming-of-age story, autobiographical to some degree, basking in the nostalgia of a bygone era that has changed the lives of a whole generation for good.

Sill at the core of its narrative is family, with only the two boys named while the parents and grandparents are only called by the generic Ma, Pa, Granny, and Pop. Such ambiguity helps foster some sort of general history common to those who hailed from there and had a similar experience. In the end, instead of being about a specific family unit, the story is transformed into one that is easily identifiable to many, some sort of communal memory many should easily be able to relate to.

The specific setting in Northern Ireland during such a tumultuous time does not diminish the universality of the storyline in any way. Migration is a common social phenomenon that has been occurring since the dawn of human civilization. Perhaps owing to our survivalist nature as human beings, relocating where the grass is greener is sometimes a matter of choice, but for some, a means of survival most of the time. Personally, I envy people who have such strong ties to their homeland, that imagined community never chosen but rather only determined by the accident of one's birth.

As far as acting is concerned, they only have to make us believe that they are indeed a family, and that is not difficult at all for this ensemble cast of veterans to accomplish. However, the real soul of the narrative remain to be Hill’s Buddy, whose naïve view of things not just gives you an epiphany as to who actually end up becoming victims of conflicts among grown-ups, but also brings you back to that point in your life when your worldview was not yet as jaded and every decision, like ending up snatching a biological detergent in the midst of a small town looting, was seen as a life and death situation. At times, you just miss that brand of irreverent innocence.

In any case, Kenneth Branagh has really come a long way and his Academy Award nomination history is quite impressive, now having the distinction of being the first person, alive or dead, to have ever been nominated in SEVEN DIFFERENT categories. Three of those eight nominations are for this film. What an enviable well-rounded member of the film community! Whether he collects accolades for Belfast or not, this movie will surely be regarded as a classic in the years and decades to come. It is simply poignant and heartwarming like that.

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