A SENSE OF LOSS is Marcel Ophuls's self-described "film report" on the troubles in Northern Ireland. While somewhat less well developed than his other works, the film remains the kind of piercing and thought-provoking examination that one expects from one of the world's finest
Christmas Day in Belfast, 1971. Catholic protesters defy a ban and stage a march as British troops watch on. That evening, a Protestant father watches Queen Elizabeth's Christmas message with his family. Afterwards, in conversation with Ophuls, he denies that Catholics are discriminated against;
but a Catholic man (in a separate interview) says he lost his job because of his religion. Protestant journalist Patrick Riddell labels the Irish Republican Army contemptible, while a left-wing Catholic describes his being arrested in front of his own children by British soldiers, and his wife
tells of being shot by them. In street interviews conducted by Ophuls in London, people express sympathy for Northern Ireland's Catholics, but deplore IRA violence. Protestant minister Ian Paisley warns of IRA terror from his pulpit, and a Protestant leader of a volunteer army shows Ophuls
songbooks that his organization has published with anti-Catholic songs. Young activist Bernadette Devlin discusses her introduction and subsequent involvement in Northern Ireland's politics, and explains that the situation is at heart a class struggle. Protestant politicians she had successfully
challenged in the past, however, call her motives and actions into question. A young couple whose infant son was killed in a bomb blast bemoan the failure of political leaders to stem the bloodshed.
Several interviewees talk about how children are raised in a climate of violence, and educators talk of former students who grew up to become IRA members. A British military commander in Northern Ireland states that he only punishes lawbreakers, but several women tell of how they were harassed by
the military because of their husbands' actions. Both Protestant and Catholic residents gives views on unification with Ireland. Protestants fear oppression if they become a minority, and members of each clergy comment on the relationship of the Irish government to the Catholic Church. Many
Catholics express unreserved support for the IRA, and former IRA members tell of their initial involvement. At a rally of Protestants, attendees declare their loyalty to Britain. Meanwhile, Catholic residents of Belfast gather at the funeral of a teenage girl, who died in an accident related to an
imposed military curfew.
Although less broad in scope than such Ophuls masterworks as THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1970), THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE (1976), and HOTEL TERMINUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KLAUS BARBIE (1987), A SENSE OF LOSS is no less rigorous and attempts to be just as thorough. The film is filled with scores of
interviews with relevant personages, including leading political and religious figures and activists on both sides of the conflict. But in A SENSE OF LOSS, perhaps more than any other of his films, Ophuls's concentration seems to be on ordinary people, Protestant and Catholic men, women, and
children who live amid and perpetuate the fighting. Ophuls also spends less time than usual laying out the historical background of the conflict, and analyzes instead its current manifestation, how it tears apart the lives of people who must live with it and how it may manifest itself in the
future. Time and again, Ophuls returns to children, showing images of them as they roam rubble-strewn streets or play war games on school playgrounds. Even when interviewing adults, Ophuls allows his camera to linger on their children, the younger of them oblivious to the nightmare of which their
parents speak, the older ones sullenly aware.
Although Ophuls's sympathy ultimately lies with the Catholics (he sarcastically describes the Protestants at one point as "moral, but oppressive"), he never permits his sympathy to compromise his journalistic integrity. He includes much commentary from both sides, some of it strident and hateful,
but much of it legitimate. And Ophuls demonstrates once again that he is unmatched as an interviewer, eliciting honest and deeply revealing answers from even the most recalcitrant speakers. The only drawback to Ophuls's even-handed approach is that, given the volume of interviews, it's sometimes
difficult to keep track of which point of view the speaker represents. As always, Ophuls does not have the interviews alone carry the film. A very clever, subtly ironic filmmaker, Ophuls adds his own commentary not only through speech but, for example, through a piece of familiar music played on
the soundtrack at a crucial time, or through a slight camera movement during an interview that colors what the speaker is saying.
If A SENSE OF LOSS is more unresolved than Ophuls other films, perhaps it's because the conflict he's documenting is itself so confused. This time out, Ophuls is not searching for guilty parties, nor looking to assign blame. He's merely trying to understand what keeps the strife in Northern
Ireland going. Having discovered the cause, he can posit no immediate solution, for he has shown that this is a conflict that suggests none. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1972
- Rating: NR
- Review: A SENSE OF LOSS is Marcel Ophuls's self-described "film report" on the troubles in Northern Ireland. While somewhat less well developed than his other works, the film remains the kind of piercing and thought-provoking examination that one expects from one… (more)