Written and Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Starring Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Lara McDonnell, Gerard Horan, Turlough Convery, Gerard McCarthy, Bríd Brennan, Sid Sagar, Colin Morgan, and Olive Tennant.
Buddy is a young boy on the cusp of adolescence, whose life is filled with familial love, childhood hijinks, and a blossoming romance. Yet, with his beloved hometown caught up in increasing turmoil, his family faces a momentous choice: hope the conflict will pass or leave everything they know behind for a new life.
Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white cinematic stunner Belfast (a semi-autobiographical love letter to his childhood and home, conceived and written during lockdown presumably as a means of both remembrance and catharsis) opens with a tracking shot through the Northern Ireland streets, filled with vibrancy and activity as children play. Buddy (outstandingly expressive and animated newcomer Jude Hill) brandishes a toy sword and shield as the cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos slowly circles around, revealing a neighborhood war in the background.
By this point, one would have every reason to assume that the stage and tone for Belfast have been set. In a way, they have, but Kenneth Branagh is not fixated on the religious rivalry extensively, even when armed forces are brought in to keep the peace. Instead, this hard but beautifully realized time and place are seen through the perspective of Buddy, whose daily life is nearly as chaotic for different reasons. He is developing a crush in school, trying to make sense of the hatred that religion fuels as depicted through amusing fear-mongering and assignments, finds himself in a questionable crowd encouraging him to shoplift, and often eavesdrops on his parents (meticulously crafted shot compositions economically manage space to such a degree that characters can be seen in the foreground and background, usually with incredible lighting technique) having challenging conversations regarding financial instability and the tough decision of possibly leaving Belfast.
Also extraordinary is the back-and-forth between Ma and Pa (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, both delivering phenomenal performances), with the former planting her feet in the ground, determined to stay and not abandon home. Naturally, a discussion over what makes a home occurs as Pa comes to vulnerable confessions such as his wife raising the children near single-handedly. Both performances are nothing short of astonishing, culminating with a breathtakingly emotional song and dance number. Jamie Dornan is also tasked with giving a speech regarding the Protestant/Catholic beef and acceptance that should move anyone with a soul. Belfast is an arresting marriage of romanticism and sincerity, a love for home and future-shaping experiences relatably and joyously bursting out onto the screen.
Belfast premiered in Chicago at the 57th International Film Festival.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com