Tag Archives: brothers

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)

 “If they bring their savagery over here, we will meet it with a savagery of our own.”

A war of occupation is a peculiar thing. It’s a war that has no defined battle lines, and there’s a good chance that most of the native combatants will be civilians. This inevitably brings reprisals down upon the heads of the noncombatant civilian population. Also since there’s nowhere safe to escape to (you can’t really go behind battle lines since there aren’t any), it’s virtually impossible to stay neutral or uninvolved. In a war of occupation, sooner or later you are going to lose someone you care about, and then you’re sucked into the vortex of violence whether you like it or not.

wind-that-shakes-the-barleyDirector Ken Loach’s film The Wind that Shakes the Barley does a marvelous job of showing the devastating fallout of the British occupation of Ireland through the story of two brothers. The film is set during one of the two periods in Irish history known as the so-called ‘Troubles’ (1919-1921). ”Troubles’ seems like a fairly innocuous label to stick on these turbulent, bloody times, but perhaps that was the point. In 1912, Britain promised Home Rule to Ireland, but this was delayed with the advent of WWI. The failed Easter Rebellion of 1916 helped create support for Sinn Fein, and resistance to the British occupation was growing.

Damien (Cillian Murphy) sees the occupation as something that has little to do with him or his intention to become a doctor. Damien’s brother, Teddy (Padriac Delaney), on the other hand, is passionately devoted to ending the British occupation of Ireland. The two brothers don’t see eye-to-eye on the subject, and while Teddy thinks that Damian should stay and fight, Damian sees medicine as a priority.

Damian’s stance of non-involvement comes to a crushing halt one afternoon. He plays a game of curling with some friends. A group of British soldiers arrive, and using the excuse that the game constitutes an illegal gathering, the soldiers proceed to brutalize the locals and murder of one of Damien’s friends. This incident causes a moral shift in Damian, and fueled by a desire for justice and freedom from the yoke of the British, Damian joins the IRA. The film follows the situations Damien is forced to confront–betrayal by comrades, the difficulty of sustaining a relationship, the abandonment of comrades, and finally a split with his brother over the issue of the 1921 Truce ordered by the First Dail (the Irish parliament established in 1919 and dissolved in 1921 during the truce). Damian rejects the order to give up arms and refuses the truce as a betrayal, telling his brother “This treaty makes you a servant of the British Empire.”

The film’s portrayal of the British soldiers is not flattering, and director Ken Loach (who also made the marvelous mostly-forgotten film about the Spanish Revolution Land and Freedom) came under a great deal of fire for making this film. The film’s commentary (an extra feature on the DVD) includes an explanation that the British Black and Tans were hardened soldiers who’d served in WWI (whereas the Irish were not subject to conscription for WWI). This intense story carries a sense of dreadful sense of fatalism that grows as the film continues, and this makes for a grueling experience at times. Based on real events, some brutal scenes include beatings, torture and executions. And in a history-repeats-itself way, it’s impossible to watch this film and not draw comparisons to the current debacle in Iraq.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ken Loach, Political/social films

Cassandra’s Dream (2007)


“The only ship that’s certain to come in has black sails.”

Murder and guilt are two recurring themes in the films of Woody Allen. Crimes and Misdemeanors makes my Top Film list, but other more recent Woody Allen films also chew over the same issues (Match Point & Scoop). At first glance Cassandra’s Dream may seem to be a lesser effort, but it’s a mistake to dismiss this film too quickly. Think of Cassandra’s Dream as a Greek tragedy, and you’ll be a lot happier with the film.

Cassandra’s Dream tells the story of two working class brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) in London. Ian works at the family restaurant, but he doesn’t plan to stay there for long. Although the film does not examine Ian’s past, there are hints that Ian who burns with ambition and the quest for material wealth has had a series of failed business plans. His latest get-rich-quick scheme is to invest in ‘hotels’ in Southern California. Although Ian acts as though he’s doing his father a favour by ‘helping out’ in the restaurant, the shoe may be on the other foot. Ian never seems to actually work in the restaurant–instead the place seems to fill the function of a personal cash machine for Ian. When Ian meets an ambitious “high maintenance” actress, Angela Stark (Hayley Atwell), he comes under increasing financial pressure.

Terry, on the other hand, is ambitionless, and he’s in a loving, successful relationship. He’s content to remain as a mechanic, and from his boss’s repair shop, he ‘lends’ the flashiest sports cars to Ian. Terry’s secret vice is gambling, and unfortunately he’s not particularly good at it.

Ian and Terry enjoy a good relationship, but they are so alike in some ways and yet also so opposite that in some scenes they appear to be halves of the same person. While Terry is more like his father, Ian seems to take after his mother (Clare Higgins)–a woman who never allows her husband (John Benfield) to forget that he’s a loser who owes his salvation to her wonderful, millionaire brother, Howard (Tom Wilkinson). Howard–a wealthy plastic surgeon with clinics all over the world–looms like some distant god in the family’s life. Ian, who inherits his mother’s avarice longs to have the sort of lifestyle enjoyed by Uncle Howard, and he certainly doesn’t intend to work for his first million.

The family is thrilled at the news that Uncle Howard is arriving for a whirlwind visit to England, but it soon becomes horribly apparent that Howard is there for a reason. Howard’s mask of genial wealthy uncle slips, and underneath is a cold calculating man who expects his nephews to pay back all of his earlier generosity through a brutal murder.

Cassandra’s Dream develops with the cold clear lines of a Greek tragedy as Ian and Terry are sucked into their fate, and just as a Greek tragedy doesn’t function to answer extraneous issues, the film doesn’t answer all of the questions it raises. What’s so interesting here is the fallout from the crime. Ian only stands to benefit from the crime, and so to him the murder is just a hurtle to overcome on the path to his new rock and life lifestyle in California. On the other hand, the murder will not create any real benefit for Terry, and so to him the aftermath of the crime leaves him face to face with his old life and his addictions.

These characters face their flaws and are inevitably destroyed by their flaws. While Woody Allen does not seem to hit the right notes with his creation of the British working class (for that try Mike Leigh), nonetheless this examination of morality replaced by materialism is still great stuff.

Leave a comment

Filed under Woody Allen

A Zed and Two Noughts (1990)

 “Grief doesn’t flavour anything. It’s just sour.”

a-zed-and-two-noughtsIn Peter Greenaway’s film A Zed and Two Noughts, the wives of twin zoologists Oliver (Eric Deacon) and Oswald Deuce (Brian Deacon) are killed in a freak car accident outside of a zoo. The driver, a woman named Alba (Andrea Ferreol) is pulled from the wreckage. Alba survives, but her leg is amputated. Oliver and Oswald are deeply grief-stricken, and they become obsessed with decay and the process of the body’s decomposition. Oscar and Oswald return to science to solve the questions they have about life and death. Oscar and Oswald initially blame Alba for the deaths of their wives, but a firm bond gradually develops between these three characters who are all mired in the grief process. The mysterious Venus de Milo (Frances Barber) is the fourth main character in the film. Venus is a teller of dirty stories who entertains the brothers while attempting to sway them from their grief.

A great deal of the film’s action takes place in and around the zoo. Here, Oliver and Oswald conduct their experiments, which involve the decay of fruit, and then they progress to mapping the decay of dead animals. Most of the decay is recorded with time-delay photography, so the grosser elements of decomposition are structured to resemble a frantic, chaotic dance of sloughing tissue. I don’t have the strongest stomach for these sorts of things, but it wasn’t too traumatic to watch. Alba is also subjected to an experiment of sorts. She claims she is “an excuse for medical experiments and art theory”–her doctor, Van Meergen, is actually a veterinary surgeon who is obsessed with the Dutch painter, Vermeer. His obsession seems to include turning real people into a living canvas, and his unscrupulous approach to medicine is tainted by his desire to convert Alba into a Vermeer subject. Van Meergen states that the “first symptom of decay” is the destruction of symmetry. Hence, Alba’s decay begins when she loses one leg. Symbolically, Oliver and Oswald attempt to restore symmetry by “joining” bodies in a suit sewed to encompass both of them. As the film progresses, Oliver and Oswald grow increasingly more alike, until they appear practically identical.

If this all sounds a bit bizarre, then you’re on the right track. A Zed and Two Noughts is one of Peter Greenaway’s most difficult and complex films. It’s also one of the least accessible. A Zed and Two Noughts is the first Greenaway film to team producer Kees Kasander, Sacha Vierny (cinematographer), and Michael Nyman (musical score) with director, Greenaway, and this highly successful team is responsible for Greenaway’s most fascinating films. A Zed and Two Noughts is visually a stunning film. Each scene is an exercise in perfection. The film’s failure, however, comes in its characterizations. Alba’s accent is extremely strong, and some of her best lines are practically indecipherable. While the three main characters are motivated by grief, they remain remote and unrealistic, and they exist to promote the film’s ideas and are often quite subordinate to the sets. Nothing exists in the film by accident–all is design, symmetry, and symbolism. And if the film watcher is intrigued by Greenaway, then unraveling the symbolism of this intricate film will delight. If, however, you are new to Greenaway, I recommend you start elsewhere–with one of the more accessible films, Pillow Book or The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover for example. Build up to A Zed and Two Noughts. This one is for die-hard Greenaway fans. If you enjoy A Zed and Two Noughts I also recommend David Croenenberg’s film, Dead Ringers.

Leave a comment

Filed under British, Greenaway