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Belfast (2021)


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I remember watching a Kenneth Branagh interview years ago where he spoke about his childhood memories of the incidents of violence in his neighborhood that forced him to seek shelter beneath the kitchen table. I recall him speaking of it almost fondly, though, as if he had lived so long with the memory that it seemed wistful to him twenty five years later. I can't find the interview now but I can say that judging by how forcefully he depicts that scene on film, in the opening minutes of Belfast, that he remembers quite well all the terror that descended upon his street so swiftly and unexpectedly, so thunderously, and he shows it to us very convincingly through the 8 year-old eyes of his alter ego, Buddy. It is a visually and emotionally jarring sequence, but mayhem is not the tone, or even the leitmotif that runs throughout the movie, it is simply, and always, near. 

If I knew The 400 Blows better I could probably make some comparisons other than the obvious, a little boy making what sense he can of the world, the black and white photography that seems almost timeless. How Green Was My Valley also came to mind as what seemed like episodic elements, not really subplot, were developed, especially in the depiction of confounding first-love with "the wee girl." There are moments where we are treated to splashes of color when Buddy is carried away by movies and theater, recalling elements of Cinema Paradiso

Music is almost all provided by local-boy-made-good Van Morrison, and fits neatly enough even if it may be at times anachronistic. Two exceptions occur, one where music plays over a sequence of mob violence, maybe because Branagh felt the imagery needed softening so as not to disrupt things too brutally, which I found disappointing; and the other where Buddy sees his parents - probably the most winsome mom and dad ever on film - seem to reenact their courtship to "Everlasting Love." 

Buddy is played by Jude Hill, and his expressive face gets a lot of one-shot time. Talented child actors are not rare, but they are always charming and Jude brings to mind our first sightings of Jerry Mathers and Ronny Howard. His mother is played by the very watchable and quite stylish Caitríona Balfe, who brings to mind Laura Petrie as we might see her if she were pushed to her limits, and she is every bit as sympathetic as that analogy suggests. Dad is played by Jamie Dornan, a movie star handsome Pa who provides an example of goodness and bravery worthy of his family's admiration. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds play Buddy's paternal grandparents, and they provide most of the more touching moments, managing to stop short of sentimentality. Add some often stunning photography and very realistic sets and there is very little to dislike. 

The ending came too quicky for me, but that's better than going on too long. Branagh ends rather than begins the movie with a written dedication, all the more moving, given what we have seen, for it's sincerity.





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