Nothing is ever as black and white as it may seem!
Written By: Paul Laverty
Directed By: Ken Loach
Movies that approach the topic of insurgence always walk a fine line. Many variances can come into play depending on the narrative and shooting style chosen. A film like La Battaglia Di Algeri went for a documentary style approach, but ultimately veered towards favoritism and a one sided viewpoint. The Wind That Shakes The Barley is told from a single perspective, but it is far from a one sided viewpoint. This is an Irish tale and as such the Irish are the only voice that is heard, but we don’t need to see how the British feel about what is going on because the Irish do a fine enough job of allowing us to see the British side as well as theirs. The approach used in The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a cold, almost non-dramatic aesthetic. The events happen, but we are never asked to take a side and in the end there isn’t a side we want to be on. War isn’t glorious, insurgence is riddled with moralistic plot holes and The Wind That Shakes The Barley showcases these tenets as well as any such film ever has.
The goal is always in sight in a matter of insurgence, but it is interesting how so often that goal may seem clear at the start and become muddied over time. The IRA began with the simple goal of freedom for Ireland, but almost right away the issue became muddied. The scene in the Republic court room is a perfect example of this. What is freedom if a rich Englishmen is allowed to extort Irish peasants because he supplies funds to the IRA? Issues such as that one create major contention in any insurgent movement. Then you have the rather simple issue of traitors, or is it that simple? Yes, by talking to the British they did betray the cause, but if they did so in order to save their own family and ensure they could one day live in freedom are they really traitors after all? It’s always so easy to state the idea, freedom is what we want, but it’s so much more difficult to reconcile the idea of freedom with the stakes that come into play in pursuit of that holy grail.
The first half, and a bit more, of The Wind Shakes The Barley tackles the idea of Irish freedom from the British. The remainder of the film is about what entails freedom from the British and the civil war that ensues. This is another example of the pitfalls of the idea of freedom, who decides what freedom is and what becomes of those who fought to attain freedom when they don’t agree with the new idea of freedom? These are very tough questions and The Wind That Shakes The Barley doesn’t offer a single answer. This film doesn’t provide any call to insurgence or nationalistic jingoism, it doesn’t ask for emotion, nor does it supply you with an easy out. The Wind That Shakes The Barley shows you the path that the IRA took, how it began with the idea of freedom, morphed into a civil war over whose idea of freedom was right and how every side suffered as a result.
The Ireland seen in The Wind That Shakes The Barley is what I have always pictured Ireland as in my various conversations with my grandmother. She would always emphasize that even though it was a land full of beautiful countrysides, the towns looked and felt so small because of how perpetually downcast Ireland is. For this very reason The Wind That Shakes The Barley looks gorgeous. The vast countryside is seen in all its glory, but there are also sections of the film that look insular and small because of the overcast nature of the land.
I don’t usually take notice of Cillian Murphy, but I should. He has put in good performances in every movie of his I have ever seen, and The Wind That Shakes The Barley may be his best work yet. His character needs to believe in what he says, and we need to believe him, but he needs to convince us of his cause without sounding preachy or overbearing. Murphy does this and with his second guessing of his actions he opens us up to what the IRA is doing and how this isn’t a black and white situation, that wrong is being committed on all sides. Padraic Delaney and Liam Cunningham are also on top of their games, and Orla Fitzgerald gives a resolute performance as Sinead.
It isn’t often that a movie dealing with the topic of one nation holding another down avoids being nationalistic and one sided, but The Wind That Shakes The Barley is such a movie. It is full of beautiful, yet haunting visuals, some great dialogue and good performances all around. The Wind That Shakes The Barley isn’t a movie that will leave you feeling good about yourself or about mankind, but there is just as much sadness in humanity as there is joy, this movie knows that.