Movies Reviews

Review | Belfast: Northern Ireland in the 1960s Through the Eyes of a Child

Belfast is definitely honest, balanced and exciting, making good on the awards it has received and will likely still receive.


Belfast is among the favorites (if not “The” favorite) for the awards of the Oscar this year. The deeply personal (but not autobiographical) film, written and directed by the Northern Irishman Kenneth Branagh, has drawn attention at awards shows around the world, both for its naive, beautiful, nostalgic and melancholy content, as well as for the great performances of its cast and the quality of its direction.

But does it really live up to all the expectations it has been generating? Right from the start, we can say that yes, it is a film that was practically produced to achieve awards, even if it is not exactly complex or original.

Belfast takes place in the city that gives it its name, in the troubled 60's, when the riots (as the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland were called) were part of the routine of local families. The film is all seen from Buddy's perspective (Jude Hill), a nine-year-old boy from a working-class Protestant family in Ulster.

The plot is mainly focused on the daily life of families in Belfast at that time, which included barricades separating neighbours, difficulties in relations between Catholics and Protestants, links on both sides with local crime, financial difficulties of working families in one country. divided, the dream of emigration, the violence of conflicts and attacks, but all this seen through the eyes of Buddy, with his childish perspectives.

The roadmap for Belfast It doesn't really bring great complexities, having an almost autobiographical content, just not being totally because there is a certain effort by the director to create a distance between himself and the characters. However, it is noticeable that he is talking about his own memories.

Perhaps it is a commonplace nowadays to see directors and screenwriters trying to return to their simpler (or more successful) days, something that has happened with names ranging from Scorsese The stallone, all struggling to embrace the current world.

In case of Belfast, the work is well developed enough to ignore this issue, if only because, despite all the background social conflict, the film is mainly about people and, above all, about innocence. He manages to convey humor and tenderness, even when dealing with tragic themes, which are right there, but which we seem to forget under Buddy's childish gaze, although they resume their sinister meaning when the viewer thinks about them again.

However, it is possible that this very emphasis on children's vision, which seems to be the great merit of the film, is also one of its sources of criticism, as the narrative becomes inconsistent and fragile at times, but understandable when we remember that we are seeing everything. from a child's perspective. An approach that has similarities (but not exactly parallels) with the one used by Taika Waititi in Jojo Rabbit, but with much less boldness and much more realism.

Another element used to bring the feeling of nostalgia to the film is also the use of black and white photography, in charge of Haris Zambarloulos, a resource also used in the acclaimed Pomegranate, in Alfonso Cuarón. Despite not having the same approach as the Mexican director's film, Belfast still brings us some artistically powerful sequences, especially those related to the Riots.

However, his main focus is even Buddy's perspective, conveying sensitivity, humor and naivety with his images and his somewhat passive perspective on what happens in the world of adults, in addition to unusual camera angles, like a mischievous child watching hidden adults. The soundtrack packed with songs by Van Morrison is also extremely striking, and fits perfectly with the mood, nostalgia and themes of the film.

The cast is, by far, one of the biggest hits, delivering performances worth remembering, full of meaning and emotion. Ciarán Hinds, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan and the amazing Caitriona Balfe (Claire, from Outlander) show how to bring weight, strength, suffering, insecurity and delicacy to each scene.

All the characters are ambiguous, as they are a thing in Buddy's idealizing eyes, but they make all their weaknesses visible to the public, even if invisible to the eyes of the child. And speaking of children, even young Jude Hill, debuting in feature films, delivers the expected child of the film. There is not a single negative comment about the cast.

Belfast, at the end of the day, is mainly two things. A wistful and wistful celebration of Kenneth Brannagh's childhood memories of the Northern Ireland where he grew up, but also a robust film that doesn't forget to make rougher narrative decisions. It is a film about a social upheaval, but as seen and understood through the eyes of a child.

Maybe it's not exactly original or complex, but it's definitely sincere, balanced and moving (with a cast that practically makes its simplicity irrelevant to the quality of its acting), making it worth the awards it has received and probably will still receive.

Per: Wallace William



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