Belfast is the story of The Troubles in Northern Ireland between the Catholics and the Protestants, a violent period that started in the late 60s and continued for nearly thirty years. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film is his memory of growing up in Belfast amid the escalating violence.
The movie is seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy attempting to understand how his childhood neighborhood is changing as gangs and terrorists insist that his family take sides in the conflict. Filmed in black and white, the movie is an odd assortment of low angles and strange composition. There is one unnecessary shot as the camera does a slow, complete circle around the child; I assume this was to show the confusion he felt, but I found the movement to be distracting. It felt as if Branagh was attempting to convey the tension of the situation through the cinematography, but it took me out of the film completely because it was so strange. This is his 15th movie as a director, so the man is no novice. The story is powerful enough without adding any tricks, and that is how it felt every time he did something jarring like switch from B&W to color and then back again.
It is impossible to watch this film without thinking about the war in Ukraine. The normalness of everyday life shattered by terror and explosions; children being dragged to safety by their parents; the bewilderment of innocent citizens wondering how violence keeps happening again and again. It’s always interesting to me how the times we live in influence art that already exists and changes our perspective of it. I wonder if that will affect the voting for this movie as Best Picture. There were other films more compelling, but none have been quite this timely.
The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is simultaneously charming and sobering and the plight of the family resonates, but the distracting camerawork kept pulling me out of the movie.