The first profoundly good film of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival screened early this morning — Ken Loach ‘s The Wind That Shakes the Barley . A complex but cleanly told drama about violence, death and warring Irish blood, it’s one of the finest films ever made about the Irish rebellion of the early 1920s…or about political unrest and revolution in any culture or time period. (There are strong echoes of the U.S.-British Iraq occupation, needless to add.)

I enjoyed and respected Neil Jordan ‘s Michael Collins (’96), which dealt with the same period in Irish history, but it delivered a moderately slick Irish-Hollywood sensibility…whereas Loach’s film smacks of visual simplicity and the cultural real deal . I’ll bang out a longer review in a couple of hours (probably), but to my mind Loach’s left-wing social realist brush has never rendered anything this stirring or flat-out masterful. It’s a love story, a family tragedy story. Each and every Irish-to-the-core performance is honest and rooted, with Cillian Murphy‘s, Padraic Delaney‘s, Liam Cunngham‘s and Orla Fitzgerald‘s at the top of the list. There’s no U.S. distributor at this stage. I recognize the (unfortunate) likelihood that mainstream U.S. audiences will not support this film in massive numbers when it opens in the States, but a film of this quality needs — demands — to be seen and respected. Cheers to Loach’s longtime screenwriting partner Paul Laverty for the discipline he showed in writing Barley — a script that gets right down to it, tells it straight and doesn’t mess around. He and Loach have made a political film that plays in obviously authentic terms from start to finish.