Film reviews

Film still from Brooklyn

Eilis and Tony in Brooklyn – a story of migration, modernity and much more.

Brooklyn

directed by John Crowley. 111 minutes

Eilis, a shy, thoughtful young woman leaves County Wexford for New York, and meets Tony, a sweet, handsome young man, an Italian-American plumber. When a family death takes her back home, newly confident, wiser, and desirable, she’s a catch even for Jim, the blazered but sensitive son of the local hotelier. Who does she choose? Where does she belong? Whose heart does she break? This is, on the face of it, a conventional story, but do not be put off! Respectful of Colm Tóibín’s focused, affectionate novel of migration, coming of age, a woman’s choice, Eilis’s story carries worlds with it and is convincing and deeply affecting.

Two early scenes set the tone. Eilis, stands at the ship’s rail, about to leave Ireland, with other young women, looking down at the quayside at their mothers looking up at them, probably for the last time. Later, getting settled in Brooklyn, Eilis helps out at a church Christmas dinner for single elderly Irish men, men whose labour has built the city. This is a story about a young woman that opens up to so much more, and so many other lives – family and small town life, Ireland’s underdevelopment, the US and modernity, and women coming into their own.

The uncluttered period settings and storytelling puts the focus on people’s faces, their feelings, attitudes, hopes and fears. Rose, Eilis’s sister hardly appears, but her self-sacrifice opens up possibilities for Eilis. People are representative, but real, and there are marvellous social interactions on the boat, in Eilis’s Brooklyn lodging house, and in the shops and office where she works. This is one young woman’s story, but it’s at once focused and expansive. The sense that she’s part of a great movement of people in time and place, of broader loss, sacrifice and transience, as well as possibilities, makes this profoundly moving.

Rating: Five stars

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

written and directed by Stanley Nelson. 113 minutes

The Black Panthers – most of its activists were women.

The Black Panthers inspired and activated not only a generation of urban Black Americans, but liberationists and revolutionaries of many hues, both across the US (which was what made them such a threat) and beyond.

Founded in 1966, in Oakland, California, openly and legally carrying guns, as they tailed police patrols to protect the Black community against police harassment and violence, they drew massive publicity and their look – black leather jackets, black berets and Afros – became iconic.

Nelson’s detailed doc, with superb contemporary soundtrack, film and photography, and interviews with Panthers, historians and cops, gives the wider, little known, history. Most of its activists were women, and it built a social base with free pre-school breakfasts, clinics, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres. It drew in celebrity supporters – Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, John Lennon – and started to link with the US Left and anti-war and women’s movements. And it fatally drew upon itself the full weight of the FBI under J Edgar Hoover.

Never a democratic organization, and run by charismatic individuals with big egos, and different aims and methods, it was no match for the FBI’s infiltration, provocations and assassinations. It’s an eye-opening, bloody and tragic history, though this is probably not the full story – why does Angela Davis not appear? The relevance to the US today, though, is clear.

Rating: Four stars

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