Friday, 15 April 2016


Mark Cousins tells a story I don't know, using tools I know all too well. I Am Belfast is, initially, a distancing experience for me, almost confrontational in its refusal to yield to the facts and feelings that define my own understanding of this city, my city. It is an abstract landscape, which is to comment that it is more about the place than the people, though its abstractions include an analysis upon the people's relationship to their landscape. Indeed, it's rather the opposite, as Cousins' surrogate narrator is Belfast herself, portrayed in vision and voice alike by Helena Bereen; whether between Belfast and its Belfastards (a made-up term, but not an inappropriate one...), past, present and future, Cousins and Bereen, which itself is actually Cousins and himself, I Am Belfast is a consistently absorbing philosophical dialogue. The particular character of that dialogue is often indefinable, though the stories told herein are true, and feel honest. Cousins revisits the city that was once his too with objective empathy, and it is his compassionate choice not only to refrain from taking sides and forming judgements but to dismiss the very validity of such concepts that makes I Am Belfast the film that it is - bewildering at first, a tad dispassionate throughout, eventually insightful, always a most idiosyncratic portrait. My tales of this city, no more nor less relevant though much more recent, are unusual among my fellow Belfast citizens, but only in content, not in nature - call it passionate ennui, and you may understand why Cousins' take on this place initially irked me. But its perceptiveness and its poetry swiftly revealed themselves to me, and I Am Belfast became an aptly abstract lesson for me: embrace this place, know it better - even if you can't love it as it can't love you. At the very least, I could love this film.