Based in London, French-born Yann Demange made a name for himself in TV. It took him a while to find the right material for his first debut film. But found it he has in ’71 and the story of Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), a British rookie soldier unexpectedly transferred to Belfast – in 1971 – where a patrol carried out by his unit in the notorious Divis Tower area of Belfast is cornered by angry, embattled Catholics. His unit retreats leaving Hook and another private behind. When his companion is shot, Hook takes off on a desperate odyssey through ramshackle alleys, houses and empty roads: literally running for his life.
The early 1970s saw the emergence of a radical branch of the IRA – the Provos, or Provisional IRA. Their fierce, violently enforced challenge to Northern Ireland’s membership of the United Kingdom led to riots and a subsequent British crackdown and deployment of soldiers to Belfast. Set in an era when opposition was mounting but not fully formed (and pre-1972’s Bloody Sunday), ‘71 straddles this watershed of political developments in a no-mans-land of shifting allegiances and murky policies. Everybody concerned has at least two agendas: Sinn Féin keeping a lid on opposition to the British and the emerging Provos; Catholics and Protestants torn between decency and commitment; and the British Army trying to keep a sometimes dirty finger in all these pies. Filmed with a jagged hand-held which pants and heaves in pursuit of its main protagonist, ’71 could well leave Berlin empty-handed because it doesn’t really surpass the excellence of other films dedicated to The Troubles: a pity, because it absolutely fulfills its brief of humanizing a significant historical moment, capturing compromise and its consequences with uncompromising clarity.
Clarity of concept is also at the heart of Calvary, John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to last year’s The Guard and also starring the redoubtable Brendan Gleeson as a latecomer to the priesthood confronted with a parishioner’s desperate anger at years of childhood abuse. But it’s the clarity of a simple – and simplistic – equation: collective sins versus individual agony. And soon muddied by biblical parameters that embrace incarnations of the seven deadly sins stunningly set in a post Celtic Tiger community: Sligo in the West of Ireland. Here we have, somewhat neatly, an envious publican, lustful wife, slothful fellow priest, financially avaricious markets' man, proud murderer, gluttonous writer and the wrathful Jack (O’Dowd), who “bled, a lot” during years of childhood anal abuse by an older Catholic priest. Called upon to confront and expiate these sins, Gleeson’s Father James has one Holy Week of confrontational countdown to come to terms with all these demons, some of his own and those of a formerly suicidal daughter. Biting off more than we can chew and stumbling over changes in pace and tone, Calvary relies (rightly) on Gleeson to save it (just) from the ultimate sin of indulgent self-referentiality.
’71 screens on Feb 8, 15:00 (Friedrichstadt-Palast) and 19:00 (Haus der Berliner Festspiele) and Feb 16, 18:00 (HdBF)
Calvary screens on Feb 9.2, 19:00 (Zoo Palast), Feb 10, 10:00 (CinemaxX 7), Feb 11, 14:30 (Cubix 9), Feb 14, 21:30 (Zoo Palast 1), Feb 16, 20:00 (International)