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Premieres & Events

Loach, Murphy Bring Mighty Wind to MoMA

By Christopher Campbell

The Museum of Modern Art hosted a sneak preview of The Wind That Shakes the Barley Wednesday night for museum members, press and other assorted VIP's, all of whom welcomed the film's director, Ken Loach, as well as three cast members -- Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney and Martain de Cogain -- for a post-screening discussion. It seemed a rather solemn occasion for Loach and the rest despite it being nearly a year since the film premiered at Cannes, where it won the Palme d'Or, and all of 86 years since the events that supplied the basis for its story took place.

(L-R) Ken Loach and Cillian Murphy following the preview of The Wind that Shakes the Barley at MoMA (Photo: Christopher Campbell)

Both Murphy and De Cogain grew up in County Cork, Ireland, where the period drama is set and was shot, and each shared his personal experience with how the locals have treated the county's history as it was involved in the rise of the Irish Republican Army, the country's War of Independence against Great Britain and the subsequent Civil War. "Everybody knew," de Cogain explained, "but it was a dark period that nobody wanted to talk about. We all knew what we'd done, but nobody said -- especially the Civil War. Nobody talked about it or who shot who. Everybody knew what side they were on but didn't discuss it."

"I think it changed a lot because of this film," Murphy added. "I think probably the time was right for people to start talking about it. Generations of families went to see this film. And obviously you don't take things strictly from a film, but people were more open to talk about it and read about it and understand it."

Each was also quite grateful to Loach for being able to take part in depicting his county's heritage, and the same is probably true for the countless other Cork citizens featured in the film. Aside from working with an affected cast, though, Loach had an undeniable benefit in hiring locals. "Your obvious advantage is you don't have to do an accent," Murphy said about his own fortune in being picked for the film. "It's part of who you are. It's in your DNA. But I think Ken wanted people from the area to give it authenticity."

Coming from the other side of the Irish Sea in the middle of England, Loach had less personal attachment to the locality of the film. "The British really don't know much about it," he said, "and never really discussed it, certainly not in the town I was in."

But the filmmaker didn't approach the subject matter as a completely detached outsider, either. A committed leftist always fanning the flames of debate, Loach surely saw in The Wind That Shakes the Barley a way to not just get locals talking about the history, but also the rest of the world talking about it too. "We wanted to do it," he said, "because the prevailing thinking in England is that the British are in Ireland to stop the Irish from fighting each other, and they're there as a sort of charitable institution to hold the peace between these warring people. And the truth, of course, is so far the opposite. We're always having to say, 'No -- the violence is done by the British to the Irish.' So, to finally get the chance to tell this story, this pivotal moment between our two countries, was a huge privilege."

In case his side of the issue doesn't provoke enough discourse, he later provided another viewpoint to consider. "The interesting division that's opened in the whole discussion," he said, "is that there's a school of thought, or an academic tendency, which argues the Republican struggle was actually sectarian and that the Republicans attacked Protestants because they were Protestant. And the counter-argument to that is that this isn't true. And this argument is being advanced as a way of undermining the current Republican struggle. People are arguing over very detailed events of 80-odd years ago in order to conduct an argument about the Republican struggle today."

The Wind That Shakes the Barley opens March 16 in New York.

Posted at March 8, 2007 7:44 AM

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