Ireland is not a country with an easy past, and of the many British vs. Irish, Protestant vs. Catholic battles, the one that took place on January 30, 1972 remains among its most monumental. Bloody Sunday recounts what happened that day in the Northern town of Derry, when an anti-internment civil rights march turned violent as British soldiers shot 27 unarmed Irish civilians, killing 13 of them.
This is not a film built on story and character, but on history and bare bits of information; as such it might be better suited to the History Channel, but it’s a bit late for that. Bloody Sunday takes place during a single day as the march is threatened, carried out under duress and ultimately destroyed in a hail of bullets. Filmed in a ragged, grainy style, jittery handheld shots bouncing between scant outlines of plots — involving march organizer Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), young hooligan Gerry Donaghy (Declan Duddy) and a couple of military men, one reluctant and one itching to spill Irish blood — the movie offers nothing in the way of attachment and everything in the way of docudrama finality.
Director Paul Greengrass doesn’t stop to explain what he puts on the screen, and his reliance on the power of a desperate situation to negate the absence of cinema story conventions — not to mention the thick brogues that obscure already difficult dialogue — is a wise decision. This is not an incident that calls for soap-opera antics or love-triangle fictionalization. Greengrass’ method to the day’s madness is of disjointed scenes leading to riot and massacre, the raw wounds of history and all the sharp pain those entail.
Bloody Sunday is film as feeling rather than clear construction of script, more a bleary-eyed recollection and re-creation of muddy confusion than neat historical drama. It’s not important to understand exactly what’s going on, and Greengrass’ direction makes certain that we won’t. All that matters is that it happened, and Ireland is still picking up the pieces.
Showing exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].