When you watch Kenneth Branagh‘s semi-autobiographical Belfast it quickly becomes clear there is more to the film than a straight forward collection of memories. There’s some cinematic magic at play.
This is greatly due to the editing approach of frequent Branagh collaborate, Úna Ní Dhonghaíle ACE. I spoke with the talented editor (you can watch the complete interview below) about how she entwines tales of family life, youthful mischief, and the neighborhood violence of the times through the wonder and innocent gaze of a child. To accomplish this Dhonghaíle did not rely on voiceover, distracting effects or any cinematic handholding. Instead, she used the subtleties of her edit, both through visuals and sound, to lock viewers into the subjective perspective of Buddy (played to perfection by 11-year old, Jude Hill).
During my recent conversation with Dhonghaíle, she spoke about this, “I always trying to find the subjective point of view in any films I edit. I try and find the humanity or some way to construct the film in with the architecture of shots, or the structure, the structuring of the storytelling that could reveal the truth or allow the audience to empathize.”
By doing so, the line between the reality of the actual events and the his memories are blurred, softening the edges of a time and place known to have some very rough edges. Dhonghaíle partnered with Branagh through the entire process to find the right balance for the film, breathing life into his memories of growing up in post production. Incorporating not only the sights but also the sounds pulled directly from Branagh’s recollections of Belfast allowed her to add a subtle level of authenticity to each scene, making us feel like we are there.
Dhonghaíle knows she was blessed with an amazing team, a beautiful story, spectacular performances from the entire cast (Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds), and absolutely stunning cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos. But, it is her editing that weaves it all together in way that captures the joy and tension of the story. It is no wonder Dhonghaíle’s work on Belfast has already earned her accolades including a Critics Choice Awards Nomination.
Even as the world was in the middle of a pandemic during production, you would never know it while watching. “I think we just felt blessed that we were able to do something that hopefully will bring a bit of joy to people to bring some humanity to the to this film going experience,” said Dhonghaíle of her experience on Belfast through COVID. “We felt very privileged to tell the story with him (Branagh) in a very simple way all in our own homes and working together as if we were in one room but I do I give everything to any film I do no matter what I do.”
The film has received rave reviews and is in many top ten lists. If you have not seen it, we recommend you do. Be sure to watch to my entire interview (video below) with Úna Ní Dhonghaíle and perhaps you too will see Belfast through new eyes.