Belfast (2021) | Film Review
Heart-breaking, heart-warming, and all in between
by Rory Buccheri
Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast (2021) navigates with disarming tenderness the troubled day-to-day life of a Northern Irish family in 1969. Seen through the eyes of 9-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill), the violent acts affecting Belfast during the Troubles are not stripped of their cruelty.
Instead, the true art of this movie lies in inserting these gut-wrenching puzzle pieces regarding the Troubles into the frame of the daily life of a family like many – a family tied by affection, by complicity, and by love.
photo courtesy of IMDb
This tender indulgence comes alive through the black-and-white patina chosen by Branagh to tell the story. Instead of alienating the viewer, the BW effect offers a gloss of – one is tempted to say – neutrality, encouraging the viewer to adopt another perspective, namely that of the young mind that is coming to terms with the brutality around him. Caitriona Balfe (Ma) and Jamie Dornan (Pa) are at the shiniest moment of their careers in Belfast – flawed but determined, their characters are eventually the makers of the family’s destiny; at a crucial moment in which their affection for their home is traded for a promise of a better and safer life. Not second for quality of performance is Colin Morgan, wearing the rough robes of Protestant gang-leader Billy. While his character is intentionally hard to love, his presence is remarkable.
This movie leaves a bittersweet taste: one feels in the presence of greatness with its luscious aesthetics, compelling story, and defined characters, yet the confrontation with a violent past (that is not so in the past) is heart-breaking. Branagh’s eye for drama fully comes through in the gorgeous scenes: from the aerial perspectives of the city to the cunning angles that encapsulate the joys and sorrows of young life. And, on top of it remains one thing running through the entire movie like lymph in a tree: the moments in which the characters are able to see light through darkness, their humour and vitality making us rejoice with them. Like in any Irish funeral worthy of its name, one comes out of the frame of this movie with tears and with laughter.
You can watch Belfast and other fantastic titles at the Belmont Filmhouse. Student & Young Person memberships are free and grant you access to all regular screenings at 5£, as well as a weekly exclusive screening on Tuesday at 2£. For more information, go to Membership | Belmont Filmhouse.