It’s 1971. The fighting between Protestants and Catholics has turned Belfast into a warzone. The presence of the military groups, gangs and secret agents of both sides and the interference of England make for an extremely volatile situation. After combat, a young British soldier is forgotten in Belfast and he will spend a nightmarish evening in captivity, wondering if the morning will find him alive.
You could commend the French-born British director Yann Demange for the way he represents this difficult era in his first feature length film. The scene of unrest showing the city’s angry inhabitants in the streets is exceptional, and was filmed in the way Paul Greengrass would have depicted it, had he embraced Ken Loach’s revolutionary spirit.
However, Demange isn’t seeking congratulations and appears to be here for the long run. During the film’s shocking 100 minutes, he provides many reasons for you to admire him. With precision, an exceptional pace and a tense narration he has created an evocative thriller and an anti-war epic for every era, every kind of war (civil or other), every major and minor moment of the history of the world, which has surrendered itself to the absurdity of personal interests and unnecessary violence.
Lost for most of the time, like its hero, in a no man’s land which could have as easily been Afghanistan or Iraq or any other war torn territory instead of Belfast, ‘71’ is dominated by the exceptional performances of its British cast, the authentic representation of the era, the melancholic retro filming (digital for nightshots and 16 mm for day) and the shocking scenes that succeed one another to bring the horror to life and ensure that the night will end with losses even for those that manage to survive.
Focused on 23 year-old Jack O’Connell, who plays Gary, and through whose point of view most of the movie is filmed, Demange has given us an explosive debut (one already considered one of the finest of recent years), balancing remarkably well between action film and a serious existential drama.
‘71’ will no doubt establish the young director as a valuable player for today’s film industry and this film deserves recognition at the Berlinale.