Cinema can be enormously addictive, and I can understand how much the Hollywood heartthrob of the 1950s, Grace Kelly, would have missed the Champagne and the cheers when she went away to Monaco to be Mrs Rainier III.
Similarly, the British legendary director, Ken Loach
, might have had second thoughts after telling the world some weeks ago that Jimmy’s Hall would be his last feature.
Loach – who has vied for the Cannes Film Festival’s top Palm d’Or a dozen times and is now back on the Croisette with his latest creation, Jimmy’s Hall – underplayed his earlier comment at the media conference here yesterday. The 77-year-old auteur, with such remarkable movies as Bread and Roses, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Angel’s Share said: “It's a hard job to give up…I said that in a moment of maximum pressure when we hadn't shot a foot of film and the mountain in front of us was quite high, and I thought I can't go through this again”.
Loach’s realisation, if I may call it so, came minutes after Jimmy’s Hall was screened here as part of the prestigious Competition to a thunderous applause from critics.
Jimmy’s Hall – which follows the nine awards in different categories that Loach won over the years – is set in the church-dominated 1920s Ireland, where freedom of speech and modern music as well as dance are frowned upon by religious heads.
Now, does this remind us of some of the restrictive Muslim nations? Or, more importantly, our own India, where radicals have often stopped Valentine Day’s celebrations and women from visiting pubs. They have even chastised young couples holding hands in public!
In Jimmy’s Hall, the church and the State vehemently oppose socialist leanings and even non-religious social gatherings in the aftermath of the Irish civil war. And this is what the church priest tells his Sunday morning congregation.
A hauntingly simple story, Jimmy’s Hall is elegantly shot, and dwells on the life of James Gralton (played superbly by Barry Ward). He comes back to his mother in a small Irish village after a stint in New York. Once a supporter of the Irish Republican causes, it is not so much his political beliefs as the song and dance he brings back from America, that gets the young and old in his village hooked on, which gets him into trouble.
James or Jimmy opens a dance hall, a community space where boxing and art are taught, and where jazz can be played on the gramophone and dances performed. The place also becomes a centre of debate on social injustices – which irks the powerful landlords there and Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), who thinks that these are un-godly activities. Also, un-Irish!
The climax will leave many of us teary-eyed, and Ward is charming and intense as the man whose passion for a bit of clean fun and social discussions is seen as examples of Communist leanings. And the church and the State play perfect kill-joys. Much like some of those with a misplaced sense of religion and culture in India.
The Festival ends on May 25, and Loach may well clinch an important prize. (Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)