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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

At IFFI 2019, master British moviemaker Ken Loach raises concerns about rising nationalism

Noted British filmmaker Ken Loach, in a recorded conversation which was aired at IFFI 2019, spoke about rising nationalism across the world.

world-cinema Updated: Nov 21, 2019 16:16 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
Ken Loach is known for his films like The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Bread and Roses, I Daniel Blake and Sorry, We Missed You.
Ken Loach is known for his films like The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Bread and Roses, I Daniel Blake and Sorry, We Missed You.
         

The 50th edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) opened on Wednesday with the presentation of honours for two movie legends, French actor Isabelle Huppert and British auteur Ken Loach. While Huppert could come down to the festival – held annually on the banks of the Mandovi in Panaji – Loach did not. A Huffington Post report said “two people with the knowledge of the conversation that IFFI offered the 83-year-old director an economy class ticket”. I really wonder whether IFFI could have made such a huge blunder.

Be that as it may, Loach sent a recorded video – which was a telling social commentary on the direction the world is taking today. Speaking about the rising nationalism, he said in the video: “It’s always extraordinary to us that the stories we tell about our world and society manage to make contact with people across the world. It really shows that things that concern us - finding lives of dignity, bringing families and working together ― all these things we share are the same.

A scene from Sorry, We Missed You.
A scene from Sorry, We Missed You.

“Although the details of our lives are different, the concerns are universal. We now have a particular problem that we share - the rise of the political far-right concerns us all where people are set against each other. Divided by countries and economic class and divided by interest. What we have to assert, in every way we can, especially though movies, is that what unites us is far bigger than what divides us. And we all fight together for a better world.”

Loach – who gave us hard-hitting social gems like The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Palm dÓr at Cannes), Bread and Roses, I Daniel Blake – returned to the French Riviera in May with yet another gripping work, a work that underlines how cruelty has begun to seep into our social fabric. Titled Sorry, We Missed You – which is also part of IFFI -- is a film that most Indians living in cities can identify with.

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The movie talks about how unfeeling interpersonal relations have become especially in the work place. The corporate world humiliates and tortures the men and women working there. We in India have seen the way food delivery boys zig zag on our killer streets trying to keep insanely unreal deadlines.

In Loach’s England, the picture is as bleak.

Sorry, We Missed You is an apt companion piece to I, Daniel Blake ( 2016), which spoke about the unfairness of the welfare system in the UK.

Ken Loach remains a prolific filmmaker even at 83.
Ken Loach remains a prolific filmmaker even at 83.

Sorry, We Missed You is even more disturbing, because it focuses on the relatively young people in contrast to Blake that spoke about the ageing class. And Loach’s open ending could not have hit me harder, and an ace director like Rajiv Menon (whose Sarvam Thala Mayam caused waves recently and can be still seen on Netflix), told me soon after the screening of Sorry, We Missed You that he wept during the film.

Loach’s world is simple, and he goes about showing it in all its earnestness. Rick (Kris Hitchen) and Abby (Debbie Honeywood) are ordinary couple, and they love each other and their two children – 11-year-old Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) and her older brother, Seb (Rhys Stone), just 15.

Having lost his job in a construction company soon after the global banking crisis a decade earlier, Rick thinks he can strike gold when he lands a job in a busy parcel delivery depot. His boss, Maloney (Ross Brewster), is a difficult taskmaster, who would never hear a reason for a slip-up, and Rick finds the delivery deadlines almost impossible to keep. Yet, he struggles on, for want of a choice. Abby is a caregiver, working long hours tending to the old and sick, who are often rude. But soon enough, the strain of their workload begins to tell, and when Seb misbehaves in school, typical of a teenager, cracks appear in the family.

Rick’s life and his mounting debts that drown his earlier optimism (which drives Abby to sell her car so that Rick can buy a delivery van, a precondition for his job) may be seen as running parallel to the lives of many drivers in India who operate call taxis. Having spent huge amounts to buy cars in the hope that the assignment would fetch them handsome rewards, the drivers soon realise that they themselves have been taken for a ride – much like Rick.

Loach underlines the horrors of the system – sometimes sweetly, sometimes strongly. And they are shattering. A police officer gives a pep talk to Seb when he is caught shoplifting, telling him to treat the incident as a motivation to change his lifestyle. Later, when Maloney gets rude and unreasonable over the phone after Rick has been injured in a gang attack, Abby gives the boss an earful, firmly putting him in his place.

Incredible, even at 83, Loach has not lost the magic touch of making movies that stun, shatter and move us.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering IFFI and Film Bazaar.)

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