(relatively spoiler free!)
There have been a lot of films showcasing the brutality of war and Yann Demange’s “71” is an exemplary one of them. Set in 1971 during the North Ireland conflict at a time when the war has become more of a civil war between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, the young recruit Gary is sent to the city.
He leaves behind his younger brother, who (presumably, it is never stated explicitly) lives at an orphanage. Apparently Gary, too, is parentless. The audience has to read between the lines in this situation (and in others), rely on the actors’ portrayal of their characters which is beautiful in my opinion since so often filmmakers talk down to their spectators instead of showing them and allowing them to draw their own conclusions.
Gary enters a city dominated by opposing and highly violent groups. Not even his superiors can adequately handle the situation and a standard search escalates. (Also because the Ltd. in charge vetoed the protective masks and shields, opting instead for normal gear for his soldiers. “We’re here to assure them,” the Ltd. said, “not scare them.” (not verbatim))
The mission ends abruptly when one soldier is killed and Gary is chased off by protesters. The troops return while Gary seeks shelter and steals clothes to hide his soldier status. He finds help in a young boy – who is more of a BAMF than any other character in this movie, really; the kid took the audience’s hearts by storm – and his journey back to his troop begins, thwarted by intrigue, power struggles and well, the civil war.
Yann Demange, his cinematographer Tat Radcliffe and editor Chris Wyatt have done a brilliant job in “71”, using the camera to enhance the mood of every scene.
However, this movie should come with a warning – there are a lot of sequences where the camera is handheld and I know at least one person who has problems with this technique.
And “71” takes it to new extremes; sometimes the picture was so unsteady that it was hard to discern what was happening but at that moment it just fit. I’m talking about the scene in which Gary runs away from Irish civilians that give him chase after the house search has escalated. Gary runs through narrow alleyways, jumps over walls (impressive) and the camera is with him, follows him, sometimes is ahead of, other times focuses on his pursuers and when it was all over, I remembered to breathe.
I’d resigned myself to having to suffer through German subtitles yet when “71” began, there were TWO subtitle tracks. One German, one English. What?
Well, I soon realised why exactly the Berlinale had chosen to put it there. A few characters were English but most were Irish and some had really mean dialects… even I didn’t understand everything and I pride myself with my listening comprehension skills. So yeah, English subtitles were nice, but mostly it clarified things not necessarily needed to keep up with the plot, so no worries if you hate subtitles; it’s okay to watch it without.
Besides, I love English dialects and Irish especially. It sounds great and I like that they were showcasing this range of speech patterns in this movie.
Before watching “71”, it might be advisable to brush up on your knowledge about the Nord Ireland conflict around 1970… because I regret not having done so before. An attentive viewer picks most of the info up during the movie, but still.
“71” is a great anti-war film that leaves you unsettled and appalled, wondering why the hell people still go to war, why anyone would fight and kill like that. Caution to those who don’t handle unsteady camera work well!
Last but not least, there are a lot of nice men in uniforms. And who doesn’t love that?
D: Yann Demange
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Richard Dormer, Paul Anderson