“Belfast” by Kenneth Branagh seen by Sorj Chalandon: “We are with the people, at the heart of the underclass”

The journalist and novelist followed the conflict in Northern Ireland for thirty years for “Liberation”. From Kenneth Branagh’s film, inspired by the filmmaker’s childhood and broadcast on Canal+, he admires the rare dive, as close as possible to Protestants. Maintenance.

Pints ​​of Guinness, guns and men. For nearly thirty years, French war reporter Sorj Chalandon covered for the newspaper Release the conflict that engulfed Northern Ireland in the twilight of the sixties. From his years in the field, the journalist, now a member of the editorial staff of chained duck, has drawn exceptional reports, crowned by the Albert-Londres prize in 1998, and entirely brought together in a collection, Our revenge will be the laughter of our children (Black-star (s) editions, 2022).

The deep friendship that Sorj Chalandon forged during his many travels with Denis Donaldson, emblematic figure of the IRA, who turned out to be a spy for the British secret service, inspired him to write two novels: My traitor (2008), then three years later, Back to KillybegsGrand Prix of the novel of the French Academy in 2011.
A fine connoisseur and mad lover of Ireland, Chalandon has, of course, seen Belfastby Kenneth Branagh, broadcast on Canal+ on Tuesday, inspired by the director’s childhood in a popular district of the Northern Irish capital which turned violent in the heart of the summer of 1969. Interview.

What did you know about Northern Ireland before you went there to cover the conflict?
I knew Ireland, but not Northern Ireland: I had never dared to go there. I was not afraid of war, but afraid of falling under the violent spell of these people. And that’s what happened. I deeply love Lebanon, but when I found myself in a café in Beirut, or in Iraq or even in Somalia, I had this absolute feeling of being somewhere else doing a report. While in a pub in Dublin, Belfast or Cork, I feel at home! Thanks to this country, I know what a “country of heart” means. Ireland is a story of rebels constantly defeated, for eight hundred years, by all the armies of the world. I am also deeply attached to its culture. That’s all I love, that’s the music I sing to my daughters. As the Irish proverb says, “If you throw a stone through a pub window, you hurt two poets and three musicians.” »

What particularly touched you in the film Belfast ?
All filmography about the Irish war ー what the British call “the Troubles”, like France and the “events” in Algeria ー was made on the Catholic, nationalist, republican side. And there, with Belfast, I find myself opposite, with the Protestants. I sit down and cross the green line, the camera takes me to the other side. For the first time, I am not in a film where I see Catholics praying to the Virgin and imploring her not to die, but Protestants hiding under the table, who watch helplessly as their neighbors’ house is burned down. . Also for the first time, we are moving away from the Protestant, dominant and bourgeois imagery. We find ourselves with the people, in the heart of the underclass, within a family unable to make ends meet. And that’s what I found exciting and moving.

Kenneth Branagh, on the set of “Belfast”, with young actors Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie.

Rob Youngson / Prod DB Collection

Did you know the personal history of Kenneth Branagh?
No way. I did a little research before going to see the film, realizing that it was the story of a 9-year-old boy in a Protestant area of ​​Belfast, with a few Catholic houses. This kid that Kenneth Branagh directs, he doesn’t come out of nowhere, or from the imagination of an army of screenwriters. Belfast, it is the film of his childhood. No one but him could have done it.

Is there a moment in the film that particularly stood out to you?
In one scene, the camera passes in front of a curtain, behind which we see a woman’s face. It may not seem like much, but few filmmakers or novelists have seen this woman. And Kenneth Branagh, yes. For this detail, I want to hug him. I struggle with movies about Ireland because I pay attention to every smile, every stone, every accent, house, street, or party, and often I’m disappointed. When I see this very beautiful film and in particular this scene, I find myself immersed in Belfast, exactly like in 1977, the year when I set foot on these streets for the first time.

What other films would you recommend about the Northern Irish conflict of the 70s?
bloody sunday (2002) is a marvel. It was shot in Derry, hand-held camera, at the site of the tragic events of January 30, 1972, one of the major massacres committed by the British. It is a documentary fiction, in which the director, Paul Greengrass, turns actors who play their own role, including relatives of victims.
There is also Hunger, of course, by Steve McQueen (2008), with, in particular, this aesthetic bias of a fixed sequence shot of about twenty minutes ー it made a lot of talk ー between Bobby Sands, an imprisoned IRA militant, and this Catholic priest trying to dissuade him from starting a hunger strike. It’s an incredible movie. I also like very much In the name of the Father, by Jim Sheridan (1993), because it’s a little-known story, that of six poor fellows accused of having fomented attacks. They find themselves sentenced to life in prison despite their innocence… Finally, the film ’71, by Yann Demange (2014), interests me a lot because we are within the IRA, and suddenly, we find ourselves with this English soldier, a kid from Yorkshire, suddenly at the heart of the monster…

r Belfastby Kenneth Branagh (Great Britain, 140mn), Tuesday November 8, 11:05 p.m., on Canal+ and Friday November 11, 9:00 p.m., on Canal+ Cinéma.

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“Belfast” by Kenneth Branagh seen by Sorj Chalandon: “We are with the people, at the heart of the underclass”