There are three features recently arriving in arthouses that share two things in common: 1. they have been sitting on the shelf for many months, and 2. they use an international setting to make parallels with American culture. And, they also may be some of the better films you’ll find in a theater this month. While much has been written or said about two of these films, Mira Nair’s The Namesake and Joon-ho Bong’s The Host, I wanted to take a moment and make a recommendation for the third: Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley. A uniquely quiet and dense war film, it may be the bloodiest cinematic study in atmosphere, since Letters From Iwo Jima.
When I caught the film, on the early side of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, I instantly thought it was the most accessible Ken Loach film I’d seen… maybe ever. But, an “accessible Ken Loach film” doesn’t guarantee sell-out audiences or the same kind of critical campaign that would welcome films like Namesake or Host. Barley stars Cillian Murphy as one of two brothers trying to battle British rule in 1920s Ireland. Like most of Loach’s work, it’s a film that doesn’t pull any punches either politically or physically. And, as I wrote when I saw the film at Cannes, there are certain timely associations created between the action of Barley and the U.S. and British occupation of Iraq.
Hopefully, this small but fierce war film will find its own devoted following, within March’s landscape of studio releases like 300 and Shooter. For more on Ken Loach’s unusual and solid film, check out recent online musings by Ron Wilkinson and Mark Rabinowitz.