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Possible spoilers. It seems that all accomplished film directors want to make a film about their youth and their experiences growing up. If I was a filmmaker, I’d probably want to do the same thing. Some of the more famous movies include the recent Best Picture winner, Cuaron’s “Roma” (2018). Some of the better ones include Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” (1988), Fellini’s “8 ½“(1963) and Truffaut’s “400 Blows.” (1959). All great films.
Director/writer/producer Kenneth Branagh takes us back to his home in Belfast, Northern Ireland at a time when friends and neighbors sided against each other because of their religious beliefs. Branagh’s stand-in is 9-year-old Jude Hill as Buddy, who with his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) live with his parents only called Ma (Caitriona Balfe) and Pa (Jamie Dornan). Give it to Branagh for choosing 2 of the most beautiful people on the planet to play his parents. Nearby is Pop (scene-stealing Ciaran Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench), Pa’s parents. They live in a small, attached home in what I would call hi-density, low-rise apartments. The toilet is outside in a small back courtyard. The row houses all look the same.
The film is shot in black and white for the most part with a 1.85: 1 aspect ratio. There is some color, briefly when the movie opens looking at modern day Belfast but quickly goes to B & W when we go back in time. We see some color as well when the family go to the local movie theater. Pa actually works in London although it isn’t clear what he does. He travels back to Belfast usually every 2 weeks. During his time away, Ma runs the show, but the family is under financial strain. Apparently, the tax man want his money and we can presume that Pa’s love of betting the horses has something to do with it. Everything in this film, however, is seen from the eyes of Buddy. Hiding in another room, listening. Looking up at a woman in a window. Looking down a hallway. Jude Hill is amazing in his first feature film.
Things appear to be coming apart in the neighborhood with the Catholic and Protestant antagonists go at each other. In this local situation it appears that the Catholics are coming after jobs and homes of the Protestants according to the leaders. Buddy and his family are Protestant, so he has some protection from both the local leaders and the British Army who are now in place as well.
Buddy hangs out with a couple friends and his older cousin, Moira (Lara McDonnell), but the love of his life is Catherine (Olive Tennant). * Catherine is the smartest girl in the class and depending on grades, the smarter ones get the front of the class seats. Buddy’s goal is to sit next to Catherine. He gets close but no cigar. In a great scene between Buddy and Pop, Pop suggests that Buddy and Catherine work on the next assignment together. That way they would have the same grade and be able to sit next to each other. Brilliant! The grandparents are great together and with Buddy. Perhaps getting the most attention this award season, however, might be Caitriona Balfe in what is her best performance yet in film. A stalwart for years in the “Outlander” TV series, she’s only had supporting roles in films such as “Ford v Ferrari” and “Money Monster.” Hopefully this film will get her the attention she deserves.
In a great scene, Ma has to finally reconcile that a move to England might be the best thing for her and especially her 2 sons. The violence is becoming more of an issue and a pending promotion for Pa is attractive financially. She doesn’t want to leave. Her family is here. She grew up here. She’s concerned about discriminations, language barriers, etc. But safety wins out. I would have liked more time with Buddy and Catherine. Those innocent romantic entanglements are always fun to watch. The film includes a great soundtrack from Van Morrison, a Belfast native. A terrific film.
*A day or so after watching this film, a long-parked memory found its way free. When I was about 11 or 12, I moved back to the Indianapolis area after spending a year and a half with my grandparents in Cedar Falls, Iowa with my 2 brothers. My mother was getting a divorce from her second husband and needed some time to find suitable housing and a new job. Her parents volunteered to help out. I got a new bike for Christmas and then a job delivering newspapers. One day, when I was out with a neighbor friend, I spotted this cute blond girl hanging out by the basketball courts at the park or school. Not sure. I immediately fell in love, even though I didn’t know her and was reluctant to approach. I looked for her at our small school in Beech Grove but never saw her. When I was talking with my friend who went to a private Catholic school, he said she went to his school. So, he introduced us. We were too young for dating in those days but hung out. I remember she could also shoot a basketball. I couldn’t remember her name until 2 days later but when I woke up there it was, Jodi R. Funny how the brain works. I wonder whatever happened to her.
Belfast is pure artistry. How this movie didn't sweep every award category is beyond me. The film demonstrates perspective on a human tragedy from the point of view of the characters. What was even more artistic, though, was the perspective shown in the cinematography. Lines converge in the distance through the use of the wide-angle lens. Any student of art or architecture will immediately recognize the technique. Although the film is masterfully black and white, the use of color in rare scenes further emphasizes the perspective of the characters.
I've watched Belfast several times, and each time is better than the last as I pick up additional details. Watch it once for the subject matter and the character portrayal, then watch it again and again for the artistry.
Belfast is a work of genius by the director and the cinematographer. It's a jewel in my movie library.
I haven't watched the Blu-ray, but I did redeem the digital version and watched it the day I released it. I had seen it once before via an online screening. Both times I enjoyed it immensely, and I did notice a few things that I had not seen the first time. It's linear storytelling (with one brief and hilarious flashback), but it's told in vignettes, almost, that all tie together. If you don't know, this is the story of when the Troubles started in Ireland, and it's told from the point of view of Buddy, a 9-year-old boy who's witness to the change in his neighborhood and his family. It's based on the real life experiences of writer-director Kenneth Branagh, but warning - you may recognize characters and situations from your own life. I found myself tearing up at one scene because Granny and Pop reminded me a bit of my grandparents. Buddy's shock and terror at the violent activities gripped my heart, watching the film, and his sincere adoration of the smart girl in school put a smile on my face. It's just over 90 minutes to watch, in black and white with some snippets of color, and it's just brilliant storytelling.
We watched the deleted scenes, and I understood why they were cut, but I enjoyed seeing them. There's also a nice piece on what went into making the film. I highly recommend "Belfast."
This movie lacks a story worthy of filming. You know where it's headed from the start, and along the way, not a lot happens. Great set of actors, the young boy who stars in the film is charming, but it's just a bore-fest after awhile. Finally towards the end there is one unexpected and unexplained scene which made me smile and almost won me over, except that it was so ridiculous in the middle of the monotony that it's like something from a completely different film.
One troubling thing about the blu-ray is that 16 years into the format and Universal is still releasing discs that are not resumable. For a movie as boring as this one, where breaks are very necessary, lacking the ability to resume where you left off was especially annoying.
As for the extras, I haven't listened to the commentary track yet but did sample the deleted scenes, alternate ending and making of. Of these, only the making of was enjoyable, in fact it makes me think a feature length documentary about the making of the film would be far more interesting than the film itself.
“Belfast” is incredibly well-written and -directed, and it focuses on family, and how one family is affected by horrible events, and how that family survives those events. The actors are so perfectly in their characters - they bring these people to vivid life. Obviously, we know to expect Dame Judy Dench and Ciaran Hinds to bring genuine and poignant characters to the film. Add Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan giving possibly their best performances yet (which is saying a lot). Top off this brilliant cast with Jude Hill, who is an astonishingly bright and talented young actor who portrays Buddy, the heart of the story, to exquisite and heartfelt perfection. Finally, the cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful, painting scenes in black and white that you cannot help but be submersed in. Oh, and there is Van Morrison’s music, which seems a part of the fabric of the story. Yes I’m waxing lyrical. This film is both epic and personal - lyrical in its effect! *Getting both the Blu-Ray and a digital copy to keep with me on my iPad is delightful.
I hadn't paid enough attention to what the fighting was about in Northern Ireland when I was growing up. After visiting there a few years ago we got a good description of the "whys". Thus is a personal story of Kenneth Branagh. It's told very well, and it was good to see Catriona Balfe in her role outside of Outlander. Good movie
Seriously Jamie Dornan omg! HE IS SO HANDSOME! great acting, Caitriona Balfe is really amazing and a super talented actress. Dame Judi Dench i mean come on, excellent cast. The little boy played by Jude Hill is superb. Based on Kenneth Brannaugh's life story of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. Definitely recommend it