Ken Loach's 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley', A history lesson on terror and resistance

Ken Loach is a movie director I admire. I was introduced to his work with 'Land and Freedom' and have seen all his movies since, with english subtitles I must confess for most of them.

His recent movie, screened at Cannes 2 days ago, 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' - although the french title is more romantic and less realistic, 'Le vent se lève' - is about the repression, in the nineteen twenties, of the southern Ireland uprising by the British Black and Tans and the fratricide combats between nationalists and socialists in the war for independance.

Le Monde interviewed Loach in Cannes and I am translating here most of the interview.

LM: Why do you choose the theme of Ireland's independance for your movie at a time the IRA chooses to stop its armed resistance ?

KL: It was a project in waiting. In England we know little about the Irish civil war. British think that the war was about two fighting clans and that to make a fight was something Irish loved to do ! Today nobody asks if it is a good thing that Ireland is divided and that's the problem in my opinion, a problem that started in 1922 when the colonial power imposed the partition of Ireland. The civil war was nothing else than the struggle for independance. I was interested in this story, in the way the struggle's main aim was to establish the bases for a just society only to come to annihilate them in the end. But I was also interested in the story as a universal metaphore for today's struggles. I am thinking of many African countries and of Iraq.

LM: The hate with which British soldiers treat the Irish makes you think of the way American soldiers treated Iraqis. Did this fact inspire you ?

KL: The movie is very well documented historically. A group of American bystanders were in Ireland at that time and there are many witnesses. The nail tearing was practiced. I did not show everything that was practiced and documented. British soldiers used to cut tongues, tear teeth, the list is too long...

LM: The violent scenes are filmed from a distance, why ?

KL: I don't want some people to enjoy seeing violence. I don't want to put violence on the screen. I prefer to plant it in the mind of the spectator.

LM: The way you treated the conflict is reminiscent of your concern for social issues and for class struggle.

KL: The vote for independance was in 1918 and the war for independance took place in 1920 during the Russian revolution. The importance given to these issues in the movie stems from a concern for historical accuracy. These issues bring with them also the question: what kind of society were they fighting for ?

LM: Isn't the movie language more closer to the English language than the Irish ?

This is the dialect of southern Ireland, Cork area, where the actors come from. The language in southern Ireland was the Gaelic. This language is practically dead now despite political movements to revive it and maintain it, one was specially led by W.B. Yeats. It is like the Catalan language under Franco, to speak a certain language is to make a political statement. One of the young men in the movie speaks Gaelic and it costs him his life.
I am shocked by the political aspect of any language, take English for example. Ten years ago in Cannes I used to be interviewed in French by French journalists and in Italian by Italian journalists... Now I am being interviewed in English. This is not anymore the sign of the domination of the British on their empire but the sign of the domination of the USA over the entire world.

I skip here a non pertinent question to the post about the choice of an actor.

LM: Aren't you afraid of criticisms for not showing the terrorrist dimension of IRA's actions ?

KL: No. You cannot put at the same level the violence of the opressor and the violence of the opressed. If you are making a movie about resistance fighters during WWII nobody is going to blame you for portraying them as heros. The word 'terrorism' is not neutral in itself, it is politically laden. I have no doubt that I am going to be attacked over this in England !

P.S. Le Monde published another picture from the movie to illustrate the article. I choosed this one taken from The Guardian's website because it reminds me of pictures we see of American soldiers 'liberating' Iraq and of Israeli soldiers 'searching for terrorrists' !


Gert said...

Great post and great interview. There's one movie I'll have to go and see (I'm not the film buff I used to be: too much American blandness nowadays).

Off-topic: you posted a really interesting comment over at my blog, I read and noted it but it seems to have dissapeared! Did you delete it for some reason? I certainly didn't... A bit of a mystery, really, especially as I would have liked David Z. to read it too...

Gert said...

Strong anti-Zionist stuff, here.

Sophia said...


I had a second thought about it. It was too personal for me and I decided to erase it. But if you judge it is o.k. I will post it again.
Can you do it for me (or you send it to me and I will post it) because I usually don't keep track of the comments I post on other people,s blogs in my computer.

Sophia said...

I know jews sans frontières and I visit their site now and then. I think people like them, like Finkelstein, are the equivalent of the jews who fought with black people in the ANC against Apartheid while Israel was a strong ally of the Apartheid regime. People like them are serving well their community because they transcend the local values of their owns to reach for more universal (and closer to truth) moral values.

Gert said...

I don't think it was too personal, I rather thought is was a good comment. I'll mail it back to you: I can't post it on your behalf, you see.

As regards "JSF" they're a little too partisan for me, but I do visit and use their material sometimes. I'm reluctant to link to anyone who uses terms like "pro-this" or "anti-that": too black-and-white for my liking. Still, Mark Elf comes up with some interesting stuff. Perhaps I'm just a coward, I dunno...

Sophia said...

No, you're not. JSF is an inside critique and we are outsiders so we are a more easy target for accusations of anti-semitism !

Cosmic Duck said...


A very interesting post. I've seen most of Ken Loach' film, and I also intend to see this one, when it appears in the cinemas here. People have talked of "kitchen sink realism" when talking of Loach. I think that is wide off the mark. In "Land and Freedom" and probably also in this film he shows a command of more complex observation and analysis.

Sophia said...


If you judge by Lars Von Trier's standards, Loach's realism is very far from Von Trier's. Loach's realism is accessible to everyone while Von Trier's is the kind of hyperrealism. I only liked 'The Element of Crime' (despite the fact that you hardly see anything in the movie), tried to watch 'Breaking The Waves' with my husband and were not able to finish it, we were litterally sick from the movements of the Camera.

Since March 29th 2006