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'The Wind that Shakes the Barley'
Powerful film about choices and the fight for Irish freedom
Pierre Joo (pierre_joo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-09 17:20 (KST)   
What would be the motives of Ken Loach in setting the story of his latest movie, 2006 Cannes film festival Palmes d'Or winner "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," in the Ireland of 1920? One explanation could be to highlight a part of 20th-century history little known by many -- myself included. Another explanation could be to immerse viewers in an unfamiliar context, for them to get the gist of the movie, which resides not so much in the tale of Ireland's early 20th-century history, but in a far more universal message. In fact, Ken Loach manages to achieve both.

"The Wind that Shakes the Barley" is the story of two brothers Teddy and Damien O'Donovan, who spend their young adulthood in their native small village of what is at the time a British occupied territory: Ireland. Like all foreign occupations, this one is brutal: constant repression of the Irish people the British believe, will be the best deterrent against any hopes of Irish self-determination.

But the yearning for independence only grows stronger, enhanced by people who choose to put their lives at risk for the sake of a cause they regard as greater than their personal well being. Teddy O'Donovan, the local Irish Republican Army leader, is one of them. His younger brother Damien seems to be of a different kind. He first chooses to pursue his personal career and decides to move to London to become a doctor. But before even getting on board the train to London, he realizes that no personal happiness is possible while others are paying a high tribute -- often, their lives -- to his nation's fight for independence. Damien finally chooses to join the resistance and fight side by side with his brother and other friends from his village.

Throughout the whole movie, the O'Donovan brothers will be faced with choices to make; tough choices that will have tremendous consequences for themselves and the ones they care about.

©2006 Pathe

The first choice is about setting limits to violence: a certain amount of violence is necessary in the fight against brutal occupying forces, but where should it stop? A young country boy is forced to betray his fellow Irish fighters and long-time friends to save the life of his mother. His betrayal will lead to the capture and deaths of members of the resistance. Should the country boy be executed, as would be the case in any conventional army of that period? Or should he be pardoned because he was left with no choices, and because he and his mother are a close acquaintance to everyone?

The second choice is between political realism and political idealism. It is illusory to think that a political agenda can be thoroughly fulfilled in the mind of Teddy. Hence, when Irish representatives and the British government reach an agreement that will grant autonomy to Ireland, without thorough independence, Teddy thinks it is time to put weapons down. For Damien, the fight must go on, until Ireland is a place completely free of British domination, as the ultimate goal is not the retreat of British forces, but the replacement of the British system that produced poverty and social disparity, by an Irish Socialist Republic.

Ken Loach's movie then shows something even more terrible than war: a civil war, where former neighbors or friends become enemies; where countrymen kill fellow countrymen; where the strongest brotherly bond could be destroyed for political purposes. As Damien chooses to continue the fight against a newly established Irish government, of which his brother Teddy has become an army officer, both will be confronted with the toughest choice: remaining faithful to their political convictions and military duties, or placing them below the values of fraternal love.

When joining the French resistance to German occupiers in 1943, Albert Camus argues in his "Letter to a German Friend" that his fight is legitimate because it is based on sacrifice rather than mysticism, energy rather than violence, force rather than cruelty. "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" is about these same nuances that are hard to perceive in the heat of history in the making, yet so essential, as they make the difference between heroes and terrorists, humanists and fanatics.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Pierre Joo

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