By Sam Acosta
“Belfast” is a beautiful example of an accessible arthouse film. Even with its short hour-and-a-half runtime, it takes the viewer on a complete emotional journey that raises questions about family, parenthood, marriage and the meaning of home.
This semi-autobiographical film takes place in Belfast, Ireland in 1969, where tensions are rising between the Catholic and Protestant populations. We watch as the young boy Buddy and his family are faced with an impossible choice: Do they stay in Belfast and risk their lives in the riots and unrest surrounding them, or do they leave all that they know behind and flee to safety?
Intertwined with this already heavy question are his parents’ struggle to balance their work with marriage and parenting, his grandparents’ health complications and Buddy’s own struggles to find his place in an ever-changing world.
This film is directed by renowned actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, who drew on his own childhood experiences in crafting the story. In doing so, he imbues the film with authentic human emotion not only through its script and cinematography but also its genuinely likable characters who you can’t help but root for.
Jude Hill as Buddy is the standout performance.
“Belfast” also boasts a powerfully talented cast, including Jamie Dornan as Pa, Caitríona Balfe as Ma, Judy Dench as Granny and Ciaran Hinds as Pop. It also introduces Jude Hill as Buddy, who absolutely knocks it out of the park in his debut performance.
As the whole story is told from Buddy’s perspective, we find ourselves having to piece a lot of the story together strictly through his facial expressions. Hill delivers every look with professional precision, conveying the exact emotion necessary for the scene. I was impressed with how proficient he was despite this being his debut.
Pop is the other standout performance in this story. The deep and loving relationship between Buddy and his grandfather is highlighted in this film, as Buddy often goes to Pop to discuss whatever is on his mind. These are some of the most touching moments of the film, with Buddy getting advice on situations varying from girls to religion.
Branagh uses movies to add color to this mostly black-and-white film.
Most of the film is shot in black and white, developing a further sense of intimacy by making us focus more on the characters and less on the environment around them. Yet Branagh selectively uses moments of color when Buddy watches movies or plays. For example, the family goes to see “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and we see the movie in color, contrasting the black-and-white world that surrounds them. This contrast conveys how these experiences serve as an escape from the chaos occurring in Belfast, a comforting break from reality for the family.
The strongest aspect of “Belfast,” however, is the script. The dialogue is not only realistic and engaging but also creates memorable and thought-provoking moments. In one scene, Granny and Buddy talk about the power of stories on the bus ride home after seeing a play. Granny reminisces about how she used to love going to the movies because each one felt like a portal to another world. In this brief yet poignant interaction, we understand more clearly the point of the cinematography in the movie-going scenes in a way that feels natural to the story.
Yet the most memorable scene, in my opinion, is near the end of the film. Pop is mortally ill in the hospital, and Buddy’s family has decided they must leave. Pop encourages them to go because it is what is best for them, assuring Buddy that Belfast will still be here when they come back. “Will you?” Buddy asks worryingly. Pop responds, “I’m going nowhere you won’t find me.” This scene is just one example of the film’s perfect combination of acting, cinematography, script and emotion.
If you have the time, go see “Belfast.” Not only does it reveal true events that not many people outside of Ireland know about, but it is also a touching love letter to the city of Belfast that makes even those of us not from there fall in love with it too.
“Belfast” is currently available to see in theaters.
Sam Acosta is a Junior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an A&E writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.