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Belfast Girls

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Fredrik Gertten and Alexandre Cornu
Directed by Malin Andersson
DVD, color, 58 min.
Jr. High - Adult
European Studies, Gender Studies, Religious Studies, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Kayo Denda, Rutgers University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 12/20/2007

Swedish filmmaker Malin Andersson presents two young women in Belfast, Northern Ireland, whose lives are confined in different neighborhoods due to their religion. This powerful film portrays the direct impact of the sectarian conflict, between the Roman Catholics and Protestants, that creates incommensurable constraints and pressures on individual freedom, subjectivity, and identity formation. The documentary also explores the notion of women’s empowerment, agency and personal transformation.

The neighborhood of Ardoyne in Belfast is surrounded by “peace walls” that separate this Catholic enclave from the Protestant area. Both sides of the wall are remarkably similar with brick row houses and lively street scenes where children run, play soccer, and ride tricycles. And yet the walls are also a symbol of the profound distrust that divides, and has kept apart, these two communities. Christine Savage and Mairéad McIlkenny, Protestant and Catholic respectively, are both young women who dream for a future with love, family and security, however each lives in two different worlds completely isolated from one another. The camera follows each woman’s interactions with family members, household scenes, and moments of happiness in the daily routine. As she hangs laundry with her mother, Christine talks about their relationship and expectations of her relationship with Kaisey, her baby, when she grows up. Mairéad talks about her move to an apartment with a friend and proudly shares with the camera a stuffed tiger, a gift from her father. Their extraordinary similarities of human relationships counterpoint their anxiety and distrust based on tradition, isolation, and history. Christine and Mairéad experience personal transformation as each embarks on relationships with men with different religious backgrounds despite anxiety and family concern. The documentary explores how religious intolerance and struggles impact the intimate arena of human relationships, in particular as experienced by people in Northern Ireland. The images also remind the viewer that religious differences are persistent and complex, and they play a significant role, along with race and ethnicity, in conflicts around the world.

Andersson’s directorial still is evident in how she elicits quality performances from non professional performers for the screen. The film presents striking compositions using tall walls, a symbol of separation, contrasted with scenes of birds flying and the striking poetic beauty of a sunset. The disparity of these two elements reinforces the notion of differences and shared elements between the Catholic and Protestant communities. The film has carefully structured beginning and ending scenes of a parade with armed guards in anticipation of potential unrest. Different views such as congested and lively commercial areas, panoramic views of the city, and murals painted with political motifs framing a busy road provide the viewer visual glimpses of Belfast.

Highly recommended as a resource for discussions in European studies, gender studies, religious studies, and women’s studies.