I Am Belfast (4 stars)

I Am Belfast

Documentarian Mark Cousins’ beguiling latest is a love letter to his home town

Mark Cousins is the Man with a Movie Camera of our age, darting around the world gathering images, impressions and emotions and shaping them into highly personal, poetic documentaries on everything from Sergei Eisenstein in Mexico (What Is This Film Called Love?) to DH Lawrence in Sardinia (6 Desires). I Am Belfast finds Cousins much closer to home with a free-flowing, impressionistic reflection on the city where he grew up more than 30 years ago. It is a tale full of wit, thoughtful observation and tender-hearted affection.

Helena Bereen’s copper-haired, maternalistic muse is the figure who takes Cousins by the hand and leads him through the streets of Belfast as they converse about a city that has known triumph and disaster, joy and sorrow in all their extremes. Cousins revisits a place world famous for its shipbuilding and for the launch of the Titanic (‘It was fine when it left here,’ goes the old joke). He doesn’t shy away from confronting its history of violence and division, lingering at quiet, unassuming street corners that were once host to bombs and bloodshed – although he does seek to accentuate the positive, looking towards the promise of a more united future. He stages a funeral for the last bigot in the city and allows us to eavesdrop on the relentlessly foul-mouthed conversation between inseparable friends Rosie and Maud, who almost deserve their own television series.

Photographed by Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love), I Am Belfast is a film that finds beauty in the colourful blaze of a mural or the strange, lunar landscapes of towering mountains of salt. The evocative score by David Holmes, with a little help from Van Morrison, also enhances the film’s appeal. Cousins has always found awe and wonder in the everyday world around him, but this dreamy love letter is one of his most polished and beguiling efforts.

Selected release from Fri 8 Apr.

I am Belfast

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • UK
  • 1h 24min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Mark Cousins
  • Written by: Mark Cousins
  • Cast: Richard Buick, Shane McCaffrey, Helena Bereen
  • UK release: 8 April 2016

A beguiling documentary from Mark Cousins examining the city of Belfast, from its architecture and social structure to political and personal repercussions of the Northern Irish conflict. This is a film that finds beauty in the colourful blaze of a mural or the strange, lunar landscapes of towering mountains of salt, and…