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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Kenneth Branagh Revisits Childhood Home in “Belfast”

In his 30+ years of directorial ventures, Kenneth Branagh has taken audiences from the lavish Shakespeare’s oeuvre “Henry V” (1989), which earned him an Academy Award nomination, to the big blockbuster hit “Thor” (2011). While he may have garnered himself a spot among A-list directors, for me Branagh has a greater share of charisma and depth as an actor. His take on Laurence Olivier in “My Week with Marilyn” is among the best. It’s more than just an uncanny impersonation; he is becoming Sir Laurence Olivier.

An Intimate Look at Childhood Memoir

Belfast” is Branagh’s new directing gig after last year’s sloppy mess “Artemis Fowl”. “Belfast” takes a nostalgic trip of Branagh’s own childhood down memory lane, with many deeming it his most intimate sweet-sentimentality. As a memoir of a family story, “Belfast” is an affecting and heart-warming experience.

Copyright: © 2021 Focus Features, LLC.

A couple of scenes stick in mind. The film protagonist Buddy (a stand-in for Branagh himself played by the delightful Jude Hill) unavoidably engages in typical childhood mischiefs; clumsily stealing a bar of Turkish delight and looting a box of laundry soap amid an ensuing riot. He returns home to his mother’s (Caitriona Balfe) dismay, who insists he return it, to which he responds, “But it’s biological!.” This is arguably the best comedic highlight in the film.

Copyright: © 2021 Focus Features, LLC.

Belfast” further romanticizes childhood nostalgia with Buddy’s fond visit to the local theater. Family regular trips to the 60’s classics such as “Chitty Chitty Bang” (1968) and Raquel Welch’s “One Million Years BC” (1966) demonstrate escapism as the full-color images on the big screen contrast with the frantic, monochrome surroundings in the titular city. Not only do these add magical moments to Buddy’s childhood but also provide a glimpse of how Branagh’s love for cinematic works and the collective experience of watching movies make up the landscape of his future career.

A Celebration of a Sense of Belonging to Community and Shared Identity

While in many ways “Belfast” unfolds its whole story through the innocent eyes of Buddy, the film gives a nod to the social narrative when it comes to identity and a sense of belonging to a community. The year is 1969. Buddy and his family live in a warm, loving, amicable, and vibrant neighborhood where both the Protestants and Catholics take up residence, with Buddy’s family being the former. Riots break out abruptly, violently, and mercilessly with properties damaged and cars set ablaze. The ensuing affray has come to be known as ‘The Troubles’, Ireland’s notorious Protestant-Catholic conflict.

Copyright: © 2021 Focus Features, LLC.

Belfast” however has no political agenda. When the upheaval gets intense, the film refuses to provide exposure to brutality and suffering. Instead, we see Buddy with the delight of typical pre-pubescent behaviors; playing with his friends on the streets, developing a school crush on a Catholic girl and accompanying his affectionate grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds) for leisure who live in the same house (where “Star Trek” is seen to be frequently on TV).

Copyright: © 2021 Focus Features, LLC.

There are no plot points that highlight the context and explanation of ‘The Troubles’. And “Belfast” is never about taking sides. Buddy’s father (Jamie Dornan) claims, “There is no our side and their side in this neighborhood.”

The film understands the construct of community and cultivates a sense of belonging to it, emphasizing the fear of surpassing physical boundaries that might share no collective existence. Buddy’s father has insisted several times on relocating for the family’s safety, despite Buddy and his mother’s strong disinclination. Buddy’s mother confesses, “I know nothing but Belfast.”

In another scene later, she further explains tearfully, “We’ve known these streets. And every street around it all our lives. And every man, woman, and child that lives in every bloody house, whether we like it or not. I like it. And you say you’ve wee a garden for the boys? But here they can play wherever the hell they like. Because everybody knows them. Everybody likes them. And everybody looks after them. If we go over the water, then people are not gonna understand a word we say. And half of them, they’ll take the hand out of us for sounding different. And the other half, they’ll hate us. ‘Cause men here are killing their young sons on our streets. They don’t think we give a sh*t. And you think they’re gonna welcome us with open arms? What, and say, come on in?”

Although “Belfast” in a sense is a conventional portrait of a childhood tale, it tells a universal narrative of relocation and estrangement. The occasion of leaving childhood home always seems to be an arduous task. Buddy’s carefree childhood seems to drop away as he and his family drop on the bus to the airport.

What is more evident is the film’s celebratory notion of connectedness in the family unit. Buddy’s father unflinchingly says to Buddy’s mother, “I want my family. I want you.”

It is a realistic account of a family that strives to find opportunities to stick together when the community fragments on their block.

Belfast” opens in the U.S. on November 12, 2021. and in the U.K. January 21, 2022.

Belfast Trailer

Adrian Radjabhttps://diksi.carrd.co/
Adrian Radjab loves writing and does it the right way. When he is not writing, he teaches and translates some stuff. On his day off, he smokes and watches Golden Girls reruns.

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