RFF16: Belfast

In his new film, Kenneth Branagh shares a life-changing moment and a heartwarming memory of his home city

The 16th edition of Rome Film Festival is also the edition of black and white films: there’s a return to the essential and, in Kenneth Branagh’s case, to his roots. His new film, Belfast is a heartwarming memory of his home city and of a specific moment that changed his life forever: the turmoil of 1969, when Catholics and Protestants where fighting against each other to affirm their preeminence.

Belfast tells the story of Buddy, a 9-years-old boy who lives in a peaceful Protestant neighborhood where minorities have their space. His father is a carpenter who has a debt and works hard in London to compensate it. He’s out most of the week, causing pain to his wife, Buddy and his older brother Will. Things get worse when unionist hardmen try to expel Catholics from their homes and violence explodes in the neighborhood: people are forced to build barricades to protect themselves, the Government sends the army to guarantee their safety and children learn about discrimination the hard way. Sometimes Buddy doesn’t know what to do: his friend Moira involves him in debatable actions, while his grandparents teach him love and kindness. When terrorism becomes the ordinary and taxmen follow oppressing Buddy’s family, the only option becomes to move to Australia. But all Buddy knows is Belfast and the girl in his class he’s in love with. 

«It’s a story that I wanted to tell for 50 years, during which time the sounds of the city, with its great humor that can be so heartbreaking and so heartwarming, have been filling my head and, after half a century, I knew that attention must be paid. » said Branagh in a message to the audience of Rome Cinema Festival. «At the start of lockdown, I really listened and I wrote down what I heard. »

Branagh’s bond with the city and this memory is clear from the first sequences: Belfast is a passionate film, that really touches the heart of the viewer. The British director doesn’t go fully black & white, a justifiable and successful choice: the color is used for the overview of the city in the present moment and when it comes to theatre and cinema, like this artistic language saved his childhood even in the worst moments. The cast is close-knit and solid: Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe are beautiful and credible parents, Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are the sweetest couple of grandparents you’ll see on screen and newcomer Jude Hill, who plays Buddy, is pure talent despite his young age. 

From direction to screenwriting, both by Branagh himself, everything works in this film. Belfast debuts in the United States in November 2021 and in the U.K. and Europe at the beginning of 2022: you are going to love it.

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