A moving evocation of the terror of occupation
"I hope this Ireland we're fighting for is worth it."
A country fighting to the death to reject the occupation by a stronger one. Iraq? Brothers turn on each other as they take sides in a bloody, irrational war? The Civil War? Neither. It is County Cork, Ireland, in the early 1920's, depicted in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, as good a primer as you will ever see on the struggle against the occupation of Great Britain that over 80 years later remains a bitter reality for Northern Ireland.
Although Neil Jordan's Crying Game (1992) treats the conflict figuratively and delicately in an unconventional love story, Ken Loach's Wind deals directly with the brutality and loss, the daily humiliations and murders the Northern Irish endured before and after the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 at the hands of an amoral occupier.
The photography is emerald gorgeous and low key to accentuate the ambivalence in the country and its households. Loach told Cannes, "If you were alive at that time, it must have been an agonizing choice. There were no good people or bad people; all responses to the situation have a logic ? that's the terrible dilemma."
The weakness of the film is its dogged one-sidedness?Irish good, Brits bad. Similarly could the US be depicted in Iraq if the story were told only through the eyes of the Iraqis. Although Wind is based on a true story, it makes no attempt to understand or explain the occupiers. British press has loudly criticized Loach for depicting a time they have yet to sort out. Some compare him to Hitler's favorite biographer and Third Reich enabler, brilliant documentarian Leni Riefenstahl.
As lead Irish character Damien (Cillian Murphy) says, "I tried not to get into this war, and did, now I try to get out, and can't." So too in Crying Game does the lead IRA character say to the photo of a dead British soldier, "You should have stayed home." As Joseph Conrad said of Congo occupation by many countries and villains, they were there "with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe."
The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a moving evocation of the terror of occupation seen from the point of view of the occupied. But then some of the occupiers didn't seem to relish the mess either. We don't seem to have the stomach for it either.