The director returns to his childhood in Northern Ireland in 1969 in ‘Belfast’, an autobiographical story that sounds like an Oscar favorite
Set in Northern Ireland in 1969, ‘Belfast’ follows in the footsteps of a nine-year-old boy, Kenneth Branagh’s ‘alter ego’ played by Jude Hill, who suffers from turbulent episodes of violence in the streets while sharing moments of love, joy and humor with your family. Two opposing worlds, one Protestant and the other Catholic, appear in this autobiographical film by the director, which has many ballots for the Oscar. Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds complete the cast of a film shot in black and white that hits theaters on January 28.
-Why have you decided to shoot an autobiographical film?
-The film has been a search since I started writing it at the beginning of the confinement due to the pandemic. An exploration that took me to that place of certainty in which I lived in childhood. We are immersed in the spirit of immense uncertainty, there is no security, the future is unknown. There are days when we don’t know what will happen the next day with the covid regulations. The uncertainty took me back to my childhood. I wanted to return to that place before the violence, a place that gave me security, certainty, clarity. A time when I could understand my relationship with the outside world. My experiences were effortless, because I knew who I was and where I belonged. Belfast was a town-city where you physically couldn’t get lost, because you always met someone who knew who you were. As someone says in the movie, we all know someone in every house, whether we like it or not. The journey of writing ‘Belfast’ was to return to that clear feeling of understanding who I am; not an individual, but the idea of a people educating a child. In this case a street in Belfast. The film is an act of gratitude to those guardians who gave meaning to my life.
Do you remember your childhood in black and white?
-This is not how we see the world, but sometimes we remember it that way because of the images that come to us from that time. There is a poetic dimension to black and white images. Also, I remember Belfast always gray because the sun never came out.
-There is a long tradition of filmmakers who look back, to their childhood, in search of inspiration, the last example awarded at the Oscars is ‘Roma’, by Alfonso Cuarón. ‘Belfast’ can also provide you with the statuette.
-I don’t think about it, if I did, I would be torturing myself. All the films I make are personal, but in this case I have enjoyed traveling to the past, to that place where you lose your innocence and begin to understand experiences. I started writing the script on March 23, 2020, however I have been developing it for fifteen years. During lockdown I learned, whether I wanted to or not, that the simplest things are the most precious.
-He likes to adapt classics of literature to the cinema for today’s public. In fact, his next film is ‘Death on the Nile’, which opens in theaters on February 18.
-I go back to my parents, they taught me that no one is above or below you. I grew up in an egalitarian society and I apply that idea to literature; there is no reason to be intimidated by the classics. I like to latch onto complex stories and simplify them in a way that’s practical and entertaining for film. For me it is a privilege and a joy to shoot this type of film.
Kenneth Branagh and his ‘alter ego’ in ‘Belfast’, played by little Jude Hill.
-Cinema, telling stories, is a central axis of your existence.
-Going to the cinema was a ritual for me in Belfast. Crowded temples filled with popcorn and lemonade, with huge screens pumping out great sound and stories and color, an immersion in places and with people you’ve never seen before. This relationship with the narration of exciting stories marked me and committed me. Cinema changed me completely, when the violence started in Belfast it helped me try to understand it.
-What feelings do you have about the violence in Belfast?
-We all need to value the gifts we have been given, however imperfect they may be. And I guess all families will be imperfect. The problems that arose ended the period of innocence of my family. When the violence started, I was really the beneficiary of a huge act of sacrifice on the part of my parents, who abandoned something that defined them: that city, that family made up of cousins, uncles and lifelong friends.
«I started writing the script on March 23, 2020, however I have been developing it for fifteen years»
«In ‘Belfast’ I try to honor my family and a complicated city that I look at with compassion to understand its differences»
Have you left out anything from your childhood on purpose?
-Quite. I mean, I couldn’t have made this movie when my parents were alive, because I think my father would have been mad at me. He wouldn’t have been happy if I talked about his taxes… This is a film where I honor my family, my parents, where I try to honor a complicated city that I look at with compassion to understand their differences . I guess one of the reasons for making the film was something I discovered myself on the cutting room floor that I had never mentioned. The day the mob came up the streets demanding that the Catholics and all the Protestants who supported them leave, my parents were forced to leave, to make a sacrifice for my brother and me. The selfishness of a few demonstrated the generosity of others, who never stopped loving their city and were forced to emigrate.