Irish in Cannes

THE Cannes Film Festival which gets underway this week has been quite good to Irish entrants in the past - in 2006 The Wind That Shakes the Barley starring Cillian Murphy won the Palme d'Or for best film - and this year the Irish contingent at the famed French fest will be bigger than ever.

There will be over 200 Irish film industry types at Cannes, and they'll hang their hats at the special Irish Pavilion at the fest, which is sponsored by the Irish Film Board and the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission. Irish Films set for a Cannes screening include The Daisy Chain, which stars Samantha Morton of In America fame, and The Escapist, which was picked as a Sundance Festival selection.

The Irish entrant garnering the most pre-fest publicity is The Hunger, which is based on the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who died in the Maze Prison in Belfast in 1981, garnering massive international headlines (and headaches for then British PM Margaret Thatcher) as a result.

The film examines the last six weeks in Sands' life, and it's directed by Steve McQueen, a British artist.

"The body as site of political warfare is becoming a more familiar phenomenon. It is the final act of desperation. Your own body is your last resource for protest," says McQueen of his work.

"What I want to convey is something you can't find in books or archive, the ordinariness and extraordinariness of life in this prison.

"Yet also the film is an abstraction in a certain way, a meditation on what it is like to die for a cause," he added.

Not surprisingly, Northern Irish Unionists aren't too thrilled with the film, maintaining that it's yet another cinematic piece of propaganda that portrays the IRA as saints, and Unionists as the villains.

"Hopefully one day film-makers will look at the innocent victims, the ones who didn't choose to die, and tell their stories instead of focusing all the time on those who had a choice to live or die. I fear this film won't do that, but instead portray what groups like the IRA did in a heroic light," Jeffrey Donaldson, a member of the British Parliament for the Democratic Unionist Party, told The Observer.

Sands is portrayed by an actor called Michael Fassbender, who was born in Germany and raised in Killarney, Co. Kerry.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley caused the British to freak out due to its portrayal of their history in the struggle for Irish independence. That film was directed by Britain's Ken Loach. Hunger is directed by another Brit, Mr. McQueen.

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