A SENSE OF LOSS(director: Marcel Ophüls; cinematographer: Simon Edelstein; editor: Marion Kraft; cast: Bernadette Devlin (Herself), Ian Paisley (Himself); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Marcel Ophüls; Cinema 5; 1972-Switzerland/USA)
“I don’t feel any more enlightened about what’s going on in Belfast after seeing the film than I was before seeing it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marcel Ophuls’s (“The Memory of Justice”/”The Sorrow and the Pity”) earnest historical study of the unrest in Northern Ireland is loaded down with facts and observations over the political situation and civil violence, but never puts it all together as to what it exactly means–seemingly the finer points of the strife escape the documentary filmmaker which was not the case in his The Sorrow and Pity, a film obviously closer to his heart. It offers pity over the continuing demoralizing situation and shows its heart is in the right place but seems strangely smug in its PC liberal presentation. When all is said and done I don’t feel any more enlightened about what’s going on in Belfast after seeing the film than I was before seeing it.

What we see are several bigoted Protestants thrashing the Catholics and its fiery clergy leader Ian Paisley raging with religious hatred like a Hitler from the pulpit, while idealistic socialist Catholic leader Bernadette Devlin talks calmly to the interviewer when seated and makes her more rational viewpoint easy to handle. The terrorism of the Catholic IRA passes as a counterpart to the ruling class Protestant discrimination and police violence. The Protestant rabble-rousers are used in the film to condemn themselves with their own eloquent speechifying, while the minority Catholics, the regular working slobs, are seen as the ones doing the most suffering in this struggle.

There’s plenty of unsettling information presented to make the objective person looking for a solution be left wondering if this conflict can be resolved by these present leaders. Ophuls fails the documentary by resting his case without stating what more can be done to further a solution, as he instead goes off on a moralizing tangent. For a film that goes over two hours in length, the sense of loss I felt was that there were too few moments that were as memorable and poignant as the powerful Catholic funeral procession. It’s a film by an outsider who never penetrates the maze of information he mapped out for the viewer, but … at least … he tried.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”