Ken Loach is Britain's finest director by a country mile, and after 'Aye Fond Kiss' (2005) returns with another excellent, neo-realist slice of life, this time focusing on the origins of the 'IRA' and their war against The British Empire's 'Black & Tan' imperial regiment (i.e. crack military death squads dispatched to stymie Northern Ireland's bid for home rule in 1920). A force who strike an exceptionally bitter blow in an old religious conflict, hence instigating the dirty war that frequently spilt over into England, and one which continues to claim the lives of many innocent people on both sides. 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' tells the story of Irish brothers Damian (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Padraic Delaney) who join the Republican struggle against British rule. And though Loach makes this as much a film about filial freedom fighters as 'Land & Freedom' was about externally imposed (i.e. Stalinist) splits within the anti-Franco resistance in Spain, its also a keenly observed look at the imperial paradigm itself: an unjust and insidious matrix which exploits the many, to subsidise the decadence of the few.
One daren't imagine how such a story might've been handled in Hollywood, so it should come as no surprise that Loach never turns the English villains into caricatures, and even highlights the fact that much of 'The Black & Tan' were made up of convicts or battle hardened veterans, returning from the soul destroying carnage of their government's most recent imperial misadventure: 'World War I'. Cuban hero Ernesto 'Che' Guevara once defined imperialism as "...a carnivorous animal that feeds upon the unarmed peoples of the world", and that's exactly the image this picture conveys; for its not just an indictment of British foreign policy, but the foreign policies of any and all imperial entities. Showing how an empire in decline ('The British Empire' was approximately 30 years away from collapse in 1920) is like a wounded, rabid creature whose savagery increases tenfold as it ponders its own end; the parallels with the U.S. in Iraq or Zionists in Palestine are as glaringly obvious as that of the possibility of another Galway for the Irish.
'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' also succeeds in showing us the grassroots execution of colonialism's favourite device: 'Divide & Rule', or when they're driven out: perfecting the fine art of being a sore loser, and though many empires have made the same heinous & cowardly exit (e.g. withdrawing French colonialists carving out Lebanon from Syria to factionalise Muslim & Christian Arabs, the English surrendering and implementing conditions conducive to civil war in Africa, Ireland and India or North America's carpet bombing / instigation of civil war in Cambodia during their retreat from Vietnam) at the end of the day, the responsibility lies not with the fleeing oppressor whose role it is to see his conquerors fail, but with the oppressed themselves whose role it is to reclaim their dignity in the smoothest possible manner. For imperialism may offer the bait (and is justifiably condemned for doing so), but its their own choice to take it. The second half of this film, though firmly rooted in the period, pretty much describes the situation faced by 'Hamas' and 'Fatah' in Palestine today, or the situation as it was for native South Africans during the last days of struggle against apartheid. Murphy's character insists upon the unconditional liberation of his homeland by any means necessary ('Hamas', 'Fatah Islam', 'Marxist PPFLP') whilst Teddy is willing to buy into the notion of a semi-autonomous 'free state' within British control ('Fatah' elements) thus proving that old imperial tactics never change and neither, it seems, does the way in which people respond to them. Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty have made a timeless masterpiece, worthy of its Palm'e Dor win at Cannes: 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' is nothing less than 'The Battle Of Algiers' for Northern Ireland. A must see.
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Political drama from veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach. Damien (Cillian Murphy) is about to leave Ireland for his medical studies in London while his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) is an active IRA member. After witnessing an act of resistance to the daily violence of the 'Black and Tans', Damien abandons his burgeoning career and joins his brother in a dangerous and violent fight for freedom. Eventually, both sides agree to a treaty to end the bloodshed. But, despite the apparent victory, civil war erupts and families who fought side by side, find themselves pitted against one another as sworn enemies, putting their loyalties to the ultimate test.