The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach, 2006)
A group of men play jovially in the green fields of an unnamed village in Ireland. They go home to meet with their family members. The opening sequences can be of any era in the island's modern history, until a gang of Black and Tans (paramilitary "soldiers" sheltered by the British monarchy to quell the Irish rebellion) arrives and starts to harass the men, along with their family. They are ordered to answer their questions truthfully, then stripped for weapons. One man is headstrong and answers the harassments with brave reluctance; he gets murdered. The palpability of the Brit's oppression is now felt by the Irish villagers, forcing them to join the independence cause of the IRA. Damien (Cillian Murphy), who also witnesses the murder opts to go to London and start his career in medicine. Another example of the Black and Tan's brutality at the train station forces Damien to return to his village; swear allegiance with his more militaristic brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) to the independence cause; and start military training.
Ken Loach's surprise Cannes winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley details the Irish independence cause, not through the eyes of its primary movers and noted personalities, but by the direct recepients of the effects of the politics and its resulting warfare. It's wonderful filmmaking by Loach. The title is drawn from the lyrics of an Irish patriotic ditty we hear sung by the women in the early parts of the film. The film shares the melancholic quality of the song; the film's evocation of the pristine greens of the grass fields --- turned in a matter of minutes into battlefields littered with dead soldiers and patches of irrevocable sacrifices of soul and morality. The same transient nature of the Irish landscape is shared by the film's turn of events; like its introduction wherein a game in the fields is transformed into a political meeting by the oppressive Black and Tans; like members of the independence cause turning in a matter of minutes (with the help of intimidation and duress) into faultless traitors; like friends turning into executioners; more importantly, midway into the film, compatriots turning into rivals, much more intimately, a brother, turning into an enemy.
The two halves of the film is divided by a truce, an event that is ironically made known to the characters right after one of the film's bleakest moment: Damien, along with his co-fighters watch (without taking action; their rifles have run out of ammunition) the Black and Tans harrasing his girlfriend and burning their house. A short period of jubilation occurs afterwards until, through a silent film reel, they learn the contents of the proposed treaty offered by the British. The political party is crushed by a schism. One half wants to continue the cause, the other wants to accept the treaty to deflect a possible and more horrific retaliation by the British Army. History paves way, the treaty is ratified, and Damien and Teddy find themselves in opposing camps.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley aches with historical burden. It somewhat points an angry finger against imperialist Britain for the present state of Irish politics. In one point of the film, a land-owner accused by the IRA of treachery accuses that if the cause succeeds, the land will turn into a backwater nation run by Catholic priests. The prediction of the land-owner rings true as Ireland hasn't arose from the ghosts of its violent historical past. The obvious manipulation of the colonial powers, the heartbreaking break-up of friendships and families, by death, by treachery, and by the common attributes of war turn Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley a sincere, achingly poignant and sometimes too painfully accurate look at a nation's inglorious past, which still haunts the country's psyche up to this day.