A black-and-white family drama, set in the titular city during a tumultuous period and viewed through innocent and naieve eyes, and all based on the director's life lead Alfonso Cuaron to critical praise and awards success. Now Kenneth Branagh is trying his hand at it.
Belfast is set in 1960s Belfast, as the ongoing 'Troubles' of Ireland rage on, leaving some families to make the hard choice of risking their lives to stay and leaving for green pastures. One such family is Buddy's, a young boy who tries to live the life a young boy should, all while his city is turned into a war zone.
So there are two ways for me to look at this movie; distance myself and try to see it objectively or see how it connects with my own family's history and personal connection to the story. This being art there is no such thing as an objective view and the best and only way to consume it, is to bring in your own lived experience.
First off, is this movie cheesy and sweet to an almost saccharine point? Absolutley, at times feeling like a by-committee attempt at a surefire Oscars winner. Does it open and close like a tourism ad for the city of Belfast? Yes, I waited for the city logo to appear at one point. Did it make me tear-up and feel warm and fuzzy inside like I hadn't for a while? One hundred percent.
This is obviously a personal story for Brannagh, with Buddy acting as Brannagh's version of his child self. With a sweet performance by Jude Hill, Buddy is a loveable, curious kid who is enraptured by storytelling and art. Throughout, the only source of colour in the movie and Buddy's life are the cinema and theatre experiences he shares with his family. Art is an escape for Buddy/Brannagh from the harsh, washed-out world he lives in.
These moments are exaggerated, with the family literally leaning in their seats as they watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when the camera dives over a cliff, making them seem idiotic to be so easily sucked in to the movie. But as more media aware audience looking back, it seems silly, but seen through the naivety of a young boy, it is believable.
Buddy's life is as to be expected for a movie about a 9-year old. He gets into trouble with stealing, struggles to talk to a girl in his class and is upset about potentially moving. You've seen it once, you've seen it hundred times and this feels no different. Even the background of the Irish Revolution doesn't impact Buddy's story, except for one tonally odd scene where Buddy is dragged back to a supermarket, in the middle of a riot to return an item he was pressured into stealing.
Framed in the background of any shot with Buddy, is the tense discussions his family have about their inevitable future. Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornana have a heart-warming chemsitry together that make their converstations genuine to watch.
Structurally, there is no flow to the film, each scene a little vignette that only through hindsight is the whole story revealed. It is as if we are watching an adult, reflecting on their childhood and only realising the implications of what happened around them.
Belfast is a safe, predictable coming-of-age story that can viewed as cringe-inducingly sappy. However, there is a personal, heart-warming story here about art, family and home that may not win awards, despites its formulaic story and production beats.