I Am Belfast : A Film Review

Digital Belfast

You couldn’t make it up, people often say about this place.  Glenn Patterson says much the same thing in his soon to be a movie, Book on DeLorean, Gull.  Circumpspecticion of a different kind than this film by Mark Cousins now, though a frequent visitor, a bit of an outsider and holds memory differently than those who live here. When I returned I noticed some things that a normal citizen (in the broadest sense of the analogy you understands!)would overlook or take as axiomatic. So it is with a insight brought in a filmmakers eye Mark Cousins enters Belfasts personality. It is the personality he seeks as he literally takes a woman ass the embodiment, the device to present and explore the place.

As part of 16th belfastfilmfestival.org presentations this will feature across Belfast at numerous locations which you can find via. the website itself. The residency is for 10 days at Queens Film Theatre, University Square, is that street in the film? You’ll have to see.  One or two nearby are certainly and what is Belfast without its Uni.

I Am Belfast is a mighty call.  It is the form of magic realism and thoughtfully inventive though constricted by viewpoint and what the director, writer, Mark Cousins signals and the cinematographer Christopher Doyle lights for you in his viewfinder.  Some times it strays tediously towards referencing Hitchcock, transference on a few pigeons on the street, or iceberg like doomladen mountainous hills ape actually a Salt pile for gritting.  Unenclosed.  The barn, or salt depository in East Belfasr, formerly, preceding this store was a almost medieval cathedral like building which is an intricate and simple cone arising from Belfasts skin. Not seen.   It takes a long memory and none is longer than, Helena Bereen the actor portraying the 2000 year old memory of the city in human form.
a photo not from the film
A colorful tapestry
Decorous and sublimely serene with beautiful eyes and swept back silver hair she is a joyful, good mannered, robustly human and carefully cynical form encapsulating, it is hoped the qualities Mark Cousins seeks to convey.  She narrates his script, which is a tad literal in that it relies heavily on the image, the transference thing, Mondrian in Belfast for paint squares and rectangular affected geometries, the type you will find if looking long enough in basically any United Kingdom city.  Our yellow cranes are symbolic but so are red bridges, green clusters of agricultural buildings on outskirts, red buses, green buses, pastel raised terraces over a port, signal red statues and crimson icons.  Steely or otherwise each city is trademarked thus.  The music is from David Holmes who excercises constraint and ditches the Manic Street Preachers, and God knows Belfast has more than its fair share, always has, delivering a touristy feel ambient repeative soundtrack as a Kelly’s in Portrush holiday feel tinkle.  Never funereal or questionable dark and foreboding this predicates a certain style and mood.  
Runty Monaghan and the other half of the art college disappears My photo
It is not intended that we are overcome by joy.  Neither is it manifested we accept this for a definitive documentary of a place in time or even across time.  The heft is ambitious while flawed by its one restrictions.  I see it as a kindly, painterly effort with no radical delving and believe me Belfast is there for the radical delving such are its straight talking devil take he hindmost people.  Social justice and cantankerous phlegmatic views have been elucidated by many, many citizens of Belfast for the Socila good that is put away by plunders and people whose ideals require a lot of scrutiny.  The people selling their grannie to the Mafia etc. The corrupt roping of the complacent and none cemented by the true radicalism espoused by such as Francis Hutcheson. His close proximity to Belfast, Hos capital city is without question and being the most prodigious of philosophers it is our right to claim him, even though he had to go to Glasgow to fulfill that.
Pioneers and Scholars

During his time as a lecturer in Glasgow College he taught and influenced Adam Smith, the economist and philosopher. The order of topics discussed in the economic portion of Hutcheson’s System [of Moral Philosophy, 1755] is repeated by Smith in his Glasgow Lectures and again in the Wealth of Nations.
If Belfast were to be seen as anyway a foundation of learning which I believe it is right to attest it follows its citizens from Henry Montgomery, the attention seeking Cooke, and the conflicting minds has contributed, across the world and needed some recognition in this film other than the arbitrary, it is through such thinkers or betrayer so we need look for Belfast intense integrity.  It has a sha,Ed recent past which has in many senses eclipsed previous ideals and these attributed to Hutcheson. Wiki comes to my aid!  These are some of his more famous quotes.

consciousness, by which each man has a perception of himself and of all that is going on in his own mind (Metaph. Syn. pars i. cap. 2)

the sense of beauty (sometimes called specifically “an internal sense”)

a public sense, or sensus communis, “a determination to be pleased with the happiness of others and to be uneasy at their misery”

the moral sense, or “moral sense of beauty in actions and affections, by which we perceive virtue or vice, in ourselves or others”

a sense of honour, or praise and blame, “which makes the approbation or gratitude of others the necessary occasion of pleasure, and their dislike, condemnation or resentment of injuries done by us the occasion of that uneasy sensation called shame”

a sense of the ridiculous. It is plain, as the author confesses, that there may be “other perceptions, distinct from all these classes,” and, in fact, there seems to be no limit to the number of “senses” in which a psychological division of this kind might result.

It is a moral fabric perhaps every city has too early extent or another.  It’s sense of place which in the mirror it reflects across the world.
Where are we

Those of us born here know straightaway what our limitations are.  There’s that River through. The Lagan.  There’s the tributaries running down its hills and some like the Blackstaff go off on their travels divided ending up discharging into Strangford beyond Dundonald and out yonder at Comber.  Where once there were trains running through.  Our limits are known to us.  The Lagan just a broad important deep channel large enough to send ships to the mercy of the seas beyond the mouth at the end of Lough named after the city.  Broad and flat the select beds reach up the hills.  Cave hill our Napolean.  Dead warrior given his ‘mote’ to Jonathan Swift for Gullivers Travels apparently and were Wolfe Tone took to the Caves his henchmen whose fate was sealed by treachery Int heir midst and a severely idiotic undermanned and insouciance met with reactive violent repression by the cohorts of the occupying state whose ministries ran like a blade the length of Ireland, in the North the hangmen of the day, the Church of Ireland, and in the Southern part the same with a mightier Roman doctrine stifling their cohort.  On the sleech homes were built.  On the hills. Mills. Factories. In the Harbour ships, flying aero planes, in the port handling sheds.  The Cavehill to the North sweeps round West and forms a bowl disallowing building homes except for a landed few on the steep slopes. Confinement ultimately a downfall.  
Rendering by the nomad

The film renders no topographical sense of place, no genus loci.  It is bereft of vision and eve with a raw past Belfast does do, does do nostalgia.  Softly Softly sings Ruby Murray over a cloudscape and direct plane view of the island beneath.  It’s not a satellite view so no sense of two joined tectonic plates, no rudimentary paleontology or archeology for that is the dictator of Belfast just as the Himalaya’s create the people of Tibet, the Serengeti produces the  Tanzanian sultans and practices of kinship.  “Here we are, caught up in this big ripple, Tinseltown in the rain“, (Paul Buchanan) except it is only its fore bearer.  The place left to spread the American Dream.







Conclusion ### more to come

 – I had an interuppted insight as did several others and intend to complete this incomplete review – how will it end !!!!! – reviewers are not supposed to give away the ending but post a flavor and hopefully some insightful guidance to steer your own visions of the material, for what it’s worth.  Cinema changes and has intentional many different views to be absorbed.  Go lightly with your tone and candor then I hope and this is an excellent piece though unsurprisingly is short on detail and is not a serialism do documentary of which several may emerge over time.

See belfastfilmfestival.org for screening details.
At QFT from Friday 8 April through to Thursday 14 April 2016.

I will revisit this blog and review with a view to updating it soon!

John Graham

23 March 2016


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