21 March 2008

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (Dir. Ken Loach, 2006, UK) - Ken Loach continues to be the best political film maker working in the UK today

When The Wind That Shakes The Barely premiered at Cannes at 2006, eventually carrying away the Palme D'Or, the mainstream right wing press in the UK sought another opportunity to attack the political intentions of Ken Loach who continues to be a self confessed liberal socialist. Though the UK press went after him, the negative criticism could not prevent the film from becoming Loach's most commercially successful UK film to date. The film itself is a magnificent political thriller that explores the origins and evolution of the Irish Republican Army in 1920s Ireland with great intelligence and a truth that does not sit well with a contemporary political context which has blurred the line between terrorism and independent resistance. The main narrative focuses on the story of two brothers; Teddy and Damien O Donovan who become increasingly divided on how they view the political conflict between Ireland and Britain. We open with a sequence that immediately suggests that Ken Loach wants us to side with the oppressed and the Republican cause which is depicted as being noble, politically motivated and above all, struggling to gain real independence for the people of Ireland. What we see are images that have become quite familiar to us and ones which are strongly associated with the news coverage of the illegal occupation of Palestine and the current brutalisation of Iraq; one of the Irish youth refuses to say his name in English in an act of defiance but the price he pays is death - such an anger is easily recognisable in the faces of youthful unemployed Iraqi individuals who can no longer stomach the humiliation of being told what to do, how to behave and all from the voices of a foreign occupying army. The film's left wing political position is present throughout a film which puts the British establishment under intense scrutiny for an imperial policy that advocated humiliation, torture and even death as illustrated in the menacing 'Black and Tans' army which was shipped to Ireland by the British government in order to help suppress the rebels and facilitate the end of any notions of dissent and revolution. This is a remarkable film because it is the only film I have come across which shows the complexities of the Republican Army and how our contemporary perspective of the term 'terrorism' has become muted by a post 9-11 context which has normalised and naturalised the use of torture by governments today. Unlike any other film makers Ken Loach continues to stand alone as a committed political film maker who is not afraid of raising important discussion about issues like the illegal occupation of Iraq, but as long as he continues to do so then the mainstream UK press will regularly have something to complain about. Alongside Michael Winterbottom and Shane Meadows, Ken Loach is one of the few British film makers when call we actually label as auteurs which is in itself an achievement when compared to the numerous auteurs that are working today in the wider European community.


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