Monday, January 17, 2022

Belfast: Memories of an Irish Childhood

Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe in Belfast.

Watching the black-and-white trailers for Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s fictionalized memoir of growing up Protestant in the titular city at the peak of the Irish Troubles (the film begins in the summer of 1969), I feared that he’d been caught in the trap of turning his childhood into self-conscious neo-realism, like Alfonso CuarĂ³n in the strenuously overrated Roma. I needn’t have worried. Haris Zambarloukos’s cinematography opens in almost hallucinatory color that reveals Belfast in all its complexity, modernist and glittering as well as enshrining gorgeous old buildings. And when the color morphs into black and white, it’s the bustling, lived-in black and white of the Parma Bertolucci and his photographer, Aldo Scavarda, captured in his the 1964 Before the Revolution or, as a friend observed, the black and white of the pictures Tony Richardson made in the late fifties and early sixties out of the great English New Wave dramas Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer (both shot by Oswald Morris) and A Taste of Honey (shot by Walter Lassaly). Belfast isn’t quite up to those movies – or the other movies I thought of while I sat through it, John Boorman’s 1987 Hope and Glory (based on his memories of a childhood in London during the Second World War) and Jim Sheridan’s 2002 In America (a too-little-known magic-realist marvel about a struggling Irish family living illegally in Hell’s Kitchen). But Belfast is plenty good enough. It’s vibrant and vivifying, and I was carried away by it.