Ken Loach

Ken Loach
N.Prusekin "Hard Times" (series of oil paintings on Russian Wars)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Understanding Rebellion

Right  from  "Battleship Potemkin",  one  can  name  a  series  of  movies whose central  theme  is  rebellion. These movies justifiably highlight injustice as the singular  cause for violence. However, Ken Loach's "The Wind that shakes the Barley" is  a  bit  different. Incidentally, this movie won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes in 2006.

The Hurling Match

You watch the opening scene. A game of hurling ( similar to hockey) is in progress in the Irish County named Cork. The year is 1920. A group of teenagers intolerant to cheating are fiercely immersed in the game. Suddenly the “Brutish” soldiers ,  demobilised ‘veterans’ from the World War nick named “Black & Tans” appear from nowhere and accost the players. They declare that there is a curfew in progress and hence the players should disband immediately. The ruffians went on to ask their names, occupation and address. The players obey the "Tans" but not willingly. Some of them give the reply in their Irish mother-tongue, Gaelic. One young chap is particularly stubborn and speaks only Gaelic. He is brutally assaulted and killed. 

Obviously, there is a culture divide between England and Ireland.  

It is horrifying to watch the torturing scenes. Gun-powder smoke and human blood ooze out from the screen from start to end.
In another scene the hero and anti-hero of the film, brothers Damian and Teddy O'Donovan are being tortured using a plier. Their finger nails are being pulled out. The Tans wanted to know where the fire-arms are stashed. Damian and Teddy are badly bruised but they don't utter a word. This undaunted response results from the  internal discipline and purity of a revolutionary. 

While they are being 'handled', comrades waiting outside the chamber burst into a Gaelic patriotic song and that does the magic. The batteries are recharged fully.

However, only by the end, we'll decide whether patriotism is a good feeling! In short, its not just inequity alone that gives rise to rebellion.

The Irish are heavily attached to their mother-land. There is nothing wrong with that but we must admit that  all sorts of attachments come with a tag. We get only the view from the ground. Never an aerial one. 

One has to read through the history of England and Ireland to find out the origins of mutual mistrust and hate.However, Ken Loach is a viewer-friendly director, he handles us with kid-gloves such that we are always siding with the underdogs. We never get alienated from the young guerrillas. In fact we feel like one among them!

No! We shift our loyalties  when  we see the killing of the 'informer' Cris Reily. He is a gullible and unsophisticated farm-hand , perhaps youngest of the lot. We see him in the beginning itself, during the hurling match. His character is revealed through his play. His mother regularly prepares food for the young fighters. Such a guy is shot at the heart point blank by none other than our hero,Damian. Cris says sorry for what he has done and faces death with dignity. 

Damian shoots Cris Reilly, the informer

Damian as well as his elder brother Teddy are no ordinary folks and they admire each other on that count. Damian is a bright student, quiet and mild-mannered. He is selected by a famous Medical School and after graduation he is to join a major hospital in London. This shy, studious character drops his plan to go to London and jumps into the thick of action. Okay, this may be believable. His brother Teddy, less than average in studies and aggressive,  is sent to the Seminary at the age of 12. Teddy returns as a rebel and joins the guerrillas. He is second (or third) in command. Fine, we can believe this too.

When the King and his politicians declare truce and enters into a treaty with the  IRA which 
70 % of the Irish people reject, our man Teddy sides with the oppressor. The story-line goes haywire from this point onwards. This can happen only in Indian masala films!

Damian refuses to get sold out, he says, " I tried not to get into this war and I did. Now I just can't back out".

Ah,its the familiar brother vs brother theme! 
You guessed it right. The younger brother is shot dead, again at point-blank range, with his hands and legs tied to a post.

Teddy arranges the killing of his younger brother.

Sinead, the long-time girl-friend of Damian shows the indomitable spirit of women. In fact she is the prime-mover and the driving force behind her lover.
You can watch how the yin-yang relationship strengthens each other.

You can also watch how the Church takes sides. It's sympathies are with the royalty and the priest threatens the faithfuls with excommunication. However, people are in no mood to listen.

"You are siding the rich" , they hit back and stage a walk-out.

The film is brilliantly scripted by Paul Laverty and the man behind the camera, Barry Ackroyd is more of a painter. There is an ethereal quality about the visuals. Needless to say, the interiors are illuminated by natural light.

Like all good films, "Barley" too works on many layers. The Irish saga connects us with the recent Iraq invasion in which Britain was a partner. The torture camps of Abu Gharib and Guantanamo springs up in mind.

Yes, history repeats itself.

Above all, one gets convinced about the futility of war.

"The Wind that shakes the Barley" is a war-film against war.