Tag Archives: social realism

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #18 – KEN LOACH

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #18 – KEN LOACH


I haven’t done one of these articles for a while, but in light of the Conservative Party victory in the General Election the other day, I thought it interesting to lean toward a more political filmmaker for my latest post. Thus, I once again pick five highly recommended films by one of my favourite cinema creatives. Today, I look at the work of Ken Loach.

Loach is now, at time of writing, eighty-three year’s old, and has just released a new film called Sorry We Missed You (2019). At the cinema alone he has singularly directed twenty-five films, plus been involved with many television productions too. His ‘Wednesday Play’ Cathy Come Home (1966), was voted in the top ten best British television programmes of all time at the turn of the millennium. It was so powerful in its depiction of a struggling homeless character, the issues were raised in Parliament at the time. His work continues to address socio-political issues even now and has often provoked controversy.

Loach works generally in the dramatic or social realist genre. However, his raw, almost documentary style, which centres on working or characters from the under-classes, does have much comedy going through it too. Structurally his films build empathy with his characters in a generally linear fashion; slices of life which more often than not result in tragedy. While the landscapes he displays are quite depressing, his characters aren’t victims though. They are always strong and passionate and striving for the best outcome. However, poor life choices, poverty, bureaucracy, gangsters, criminality, addiction, military, and unfair government laws and procedures provide fierce obstacles.

Some have accused Loach of, over the years, being a ‘Champagne Socialist’, comfortably attacking the ruling classes from a position of privilege. He’s also been accused of vicariously holidaying in the land of the under-privileged, for what gain I’m unsure of. Personally, I am always compelled by Loach’s cinema, the issues raised and the characters he presents. He is a true humanist director and storyteller, who has made some consistently brilliant films. Whether you agree with his politics or views, he is at least attempting to reflect the injustices in the world and the underdogs within in it. Here are five films which capture this perfectly.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



KES (1969)

Based on Barry Hines’ novel, Kes is one of the finest British films ever. It concerns the everyday existence of Billy Casper (David Bradley) and his attempts to survive the harsh realities of Northern life in Barnsley. Billy struggles at school, but finds salvation when he adopts and trains a young kestrel. Kes represents a microcosm of working-class life where the kids are either damned or sent down the pit to work. Simultaneously warm, harsh, bitter, funny and tragic, Kes is a memorable early work from Ken Loach and deserves revisiting over and over again.



MY NAME IS JOE (1998)

Anchored by an incredible leading performance from Peter Mullen, My Name is Joe, centres on Joe Kavanagh and his attempts to stay sober. Joe has been a destructive alcoholic for some years and uses AA to control his drinking. The narrative drive comes from Joe’s attempt to assist recovering drug addict, Liam (David McKay), plus Joe’s blossoming romance with a local health worker, Sarah (Louise Goodall). It’s a raw rendition of Scottish working-class life with romance and tragedy lying side-by-side in a moving portrait of addiction, love and life’s everyday struggles.



THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2006)

Incredibly controversial when released, Loach’s war drama is set in 1920’s, Cork, Ireland. It centres on the conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the British army, as civil war broke out prior to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The lead protagonists are two brothers portrayed by Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney. As the war and violence heightens the two brothers, their families and their compatriots are devastated by harsh British rule. Loach was described as “anti-English and traitorous” by the English press and Conservative politicians, when the film was released. However, irrespective of your politics, it is a stunningly human work of cinema; both shocking and heart-wrenching in equal measures.



LOOKING FOR ERIC (2009)

Films about football (soccer in the U.S.A) and footballers can be very tricky to get right as the game itself arguably works better as a live spectacle, rather than at the cinema. However, Loach scored a big win with this really moving story about a lowly postman, Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), who is struggling with family, love and work pressures. Depressed and almost suicidal, Eric finds unlikely help in the magical appearance of Manchester United football legend, Eric Cantona. Sprinkling the kitchen sink realism with fantasy is a departure for Loach, and Paul Laverty’s wonderful script brilliantly espouses the need for teamwork, fraternity and community within its touching narrative.



I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)

Having worked for the Benefits Agency a few decades ago, I have some understanding of social security and government assistance schemes. Via the titular character of Daniel Blake (the brilliant Davey Johns), Loach savagely criticises Conservative austerity measures. The systematic turning of the screw has seen many British people have their benefits stopped because of somewhat Kafkaesque measures. Of course, the system should work to stop people abusing it, but many deserving people suffered too. This is demonstrated here in this heartfelt drama of one man, who having suffered a heart attack, battles for his pride and future.



CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #8 – DEAD MAN’S SHOES (2004) – RICHARD MEETS SONNY

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #8 – DEAD MAN’S SHOES (2004) – RICHARD MEETS SONNY

Directed by: Shane Meadows

Produced by: Mark Herbert, Louise Meadows

Written by: Paddy Considine, Paul Fraser, Shane Meadows

Cast: Paddy Considine, Toby Kebbell, Gary Stretch, Stuart Wolfenden etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) is both a revenge thriller and a metaphor for the lost youth of England. Specifically, the youth of the Midlands discarded and forgotten by society.

Paddy Considine gives an incredible performance full of intensity, guilt, pathos, pain, self-loathing and regret. He portrays, Richard, a returning soldier, out to get back at those that hurt his brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). The film asks: can revenge absolve guilt? Alas, there is no easy answer.

The film was shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget. Among many, many brilliant and disturbing scenes is the one where Richard initially meets main gang-leader, Sonny (Gary Stretch). It’s a short but impactful scene full of menace and suspense. Richard makes it plain he is coming for Sonny and his motley crew of low level criminals. Apparently a larger scale confrontation was scripted, but due to budget constraints this scene replaced it; proving that more often than not less is definitely more.

کفرناحوم‎ / CAPERNAUM / CHAOS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW – One of the most heart-breaking films you will ever see!

کفرناحوم‎ / CAPERNAUM / CHAOS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Nadine Labaki

Produced by: Michel Merkt, Khaled Mouzanar

Screenplay by: Madine Labaki, Jihad Hojaily, Michelle Keserwany

Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Bankole, Kawthar Al Haddad, Fadi Kamel Youssef, Nour El Husseini etc.

Cinematography: Christopher Aoun

Editing: Konstantin Bock

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The recent Oscars brought up more than its’ fair share of ceremonial, broadcast and social media celebration and moaning from the film creatives, public, critics and privileged millionaires alike. But hey everyone’s entitled to their opinion and has the freedom of speech to express said opinions about what should and shouldn’t win such frivolous industry trinkets. It’s a bit of fun and gets everyone talking about movies, society and life, which is always a good thing.

Yet, every now and then a film comes along which, while nominated for an award, does not win the prize it deserves. That film is the heart-ripping, social drama Capernaum (2018). This Lebanese film is one of the most emotonally impactful films I have ever seen and should not just have won ‘Best film in a Foreign Language’ at the Academy Awards, but should have won ‘Best Film’, in my humble view. While Roma (2018) was an expertly crafted love letter to Cuaron’s childhood and the women he grew up with, its’ characters are very passive and the slow moving style left me feeling tepid. Capernaum, on the other hand, is anything but tepid, as its’ hero is a dynamic firebrand who you cannot help but root for.

Set in contemporary Lebanon, the story is structured around a court-case where lead protagonist, Zain, a twelve or thirteen year old boy, is seeking to divorce his parents. Extensive flashbacks then reveal why Zain feels this strongly about his life and the hell he has to endure to survive and protect those he loves. Zain’s existence, like many street kids, refugees and families in Beirut, struggle daily under threat of death, disease and exploitation. When his younger sister is sold by his parents to their landlord to prevent eviction, Zain goes crazy. Following a violent row he is thrown onto the streets and is left to fend in the dirt and shadows. He find kindred friendship with Rahil, an undocumented Ethiopian woman, and Zain helps mind her young son, Yonas. Here the narrative screw is really turned as their lives spin further out of control.

With incredible scenes of documentary realism the director Nadine Labaki has delivered such a powerful in your face and frantic style. The streets of Beirut become a legal, social and religious prison for the characters, as forgers, paedophiles and traffickers threaten to rob the souls and bodies of Zain and his like. Moreover, the narrative makes incredible points regarding existence, posing whether people should be brought into the world to such suffering. Indeed, not all characters are as tough as Zain, who’s caring, resourceful, cheeky, tough, entrepreneurial and a born fighter.

I cannot speak highly enough of this film. If I ever feel down about my over-privileged life, then I just need to think of these characters and I will be humbled. For sure it is over-the-top in its’ melodramatic depiction and there are some unlikely narrative elements toward the end, but I did not care about those. It moved me immensely and the director and filmmaking team deserve so much credit turning twelve hours of shooting footage into such a coherently moving portrayal of existence. They even find time for some humour amidst the tragedy. Further, the actor who gave us Zain is himself a refugee and had never acted before, so to capture such energy on screen is amazing. Lastly, next time I selfishly think “my life sucks”, I will picture Zain pulling Yonas around the dusty streets of Beirut in an aluminium pot and be completely humbled.

Mark: 10 out of 11