I Am Belfast

 

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Read on to decide if your rating of this film by Mark Cousins might be much higher than 

mine.

 

I Am Belfast

 

Having appreciated the work of Mark Cousins both on television and in the cinema, I had expected to admire his film about his home town hoping that he would do for Belfast what Terence Davies had done for Liverpool in Of Time and the City (2008). But, however idiosyncratic Davies’s documentary was, it had communicated much about the character of Liverpool whereas in I Am Belfast I felt that the emphasis was much more on the artiness of Cousins’s approach which grated on me.

Cousins does have the services of that fine photographer Christopher Doyle and there is also archive footage that provides some history and is linked to fresh comments not excluding talk of the Troubles. But to choose to have the city represented by an elderly woman (Helena Bereen) who actually claims to be Belfast as per the title and who appears on screen sharing conversations with an unseen Mark Cousins makes for an arty stylisation that not all will welcome. It is particularly irritating when she discusses with Cousins what should or should not be shown regarding the Troubles because we know that both sides of their contention have been scripted by Cousins.

Again I found it off-putting when Cousins adopts a post-modern stance and discusses the images on screen which can then be amended by adding extra colours or other features. Furthermore some aspects here would be entirely in place in a parody of Cousins’s work (only he when making a movie about Belfast could fit in references to Hitchcock and extracts from both J’Accuse and The Creature from the Black Lagoon). Late on the film becomes even more stylised with a drawn-out sequence depicting the imagined funeral of Belfast’s Last Bigot.

Such moments do at least evidence the fact that Cousins’s heart is in the right place but, if from early on I found the tone here aggravating, the last scenes prove even more irksome. Naturally Cousins knows his Ozu and the Japanese director was brilliant at finding small details that spoke volumes. When Cousins introduces an incident regarding help given to a woman to regain her shopping he may have had this in mind, but he chooses to milk it in a way that Ozu would never have countenanced. And, if the idea of Helena Bereen being Belfast is not quite as whimsical in execution as one had feared, the closing comments about her step over that border too. But how much can my reactions be regarded as a matter of personal taste? It is for readers to decide whether or not they feel that they would agree or disagree with my view, one that can be summed up in the suggestion that what is offered on screen here is not pathos but bathos.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Helena Bereen, Sean Perry, Shane McCafferty, Patricia Brook, Rosie McKee, Maud Bell.

 

Dir Mark Cousins, Pro John Archer and Chris Martin, Written by Mark Cousins, Ph Christopher Doyle and Mark Cousins, Ed Timo Langer, Pro Des Shane Bunting, Music David Holmes.

 

BFI/Northern Ireland Screen/Creative Scotland/a Hopscotch Films and Canderblinks production etc.-BFI Distribution.
84 mins. UK. 2015. Rel: 8 April 2016. Cert 15.