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December 26, 2006

The Wind that Shakes the Barley


Ken Loach - 2006
J-Bics Region 3 DVD

Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes last May, The Wind that Shakes the Barley seems to have been forgotten at the end of the year. The film's critical fortunes may revive when it gets a somewhat overdue release in the U.S. but the newest film from Ken Loach should have been released earlier. That the memory of the Cannes win would be much fresher is one reason. The other argument for an earlier stateside release is because of the themes explored in the film.

One can argue about the parallels between Ireland in the 1920s with present day Iraq, Afghanistan, West Bank and Gaza Strip, or even the present day U.S. and England. While V for Vendetta and Children of Men look at the present through a fictional future, Loach looks back at a past that remains contentious and not clearly understood. Just as a look at Ireland, The Wind that Shakes the Barley also can be viewed as a companion piece to Loach's Hidden Agenda, a contemporary examination of the British occupation of Northern Ireland.

One example of the contemporary parallels is early on the film. A group of British soldiers demands that several young men, about the same age as the soldiers, stand against a wall to be questioned. One of the young Irishmen response to questioning in Gaellic causing the soldiers frustration at his refusal to answer in the language the soldiers understand. The soldiers establish a sense of control by beating the Irish youth to death. Later, refusing to accept that some women may not have the information they seek, the British soldiers burn down a house and humiliate a young woman by shearing off her hair. For some of the soldiers, fighting the Irish is simply a continuation to the battles fought in "The Great War". Some of the younger soldiers seem bewildered by their mission much as many young soldiers in future wars.

Anyone who has seen previous films by Loach can anticipate where his sympathies lie. Loach and writer Paul Laverty may be against the British presence in Ireland, but they also show how divided the Irish were (and are) in not only dealing with the British but each other. In one scene there is an argument about a shop owner who exploits the poverty of his customers, but also has supplied guns on behalf of the rebellion. The film concludes by showing that the Irish who accepted the treaty with Britain being as brutal as the occupation army they had previous fought, distinguishable only by the change of uniform. As in Loach's other films, the real enemy is the one who profits from war, and Civil War is never, ever civil.

Posted by peter at December 26, 2006 12:18 AM


i agree with you that this film has been criminally allowed to somewhat vanish off the film spectrum... i found it to be a powerful testament to the divide-and-conquer rule where the adversary is turned against itself and allowed to auto-destruct...

Posted by: noel tanti at December 30, 2006 01:11 AM