Director Ken Loach is a champion for people who rarely have one in the field of cinema. Hell he is a champion for people who rarely have one in broader society, let alone the arts. I, Daniel Blake (2016) is as indignant and timely a film as the 80 year old has ever made – crushing, empathetic and infuriating. In the screening I was in, you could feel the energy pulsing through the audience as each injustice was wrought on the characters. The film sees Daniel Blake caught in the confusing maelstrom of the welfare system in England. A situation that leaves an honest man barely able to eat or get by.
Whilst the film is very specific to England, it confronts issues that also affect working class people in Australia as well as elsewhere. Conservative governments, fit to burst with privilege, see humiliation as an acceptable deterrent for welfare. They set out to frustrate those who desperately need help into abandoning hope because of the ‘system’. The film achingly depicts how state structures are used not just to humiliate, but to totally dehumanise those who most need the exact opposite in our society. The blame for this is squarely laid at the feet of conservative power, with their obsession for privatisation and savings above all else. Champions of ending welfare, they have never experienced hardship, so they can simply not fathom how others have. But all this is not achieved through staid or even generally depressing means. At the heart of the film is the (platonic) relationship between Dave Johns’ Daniel and Hayley Squires’ Katie. A single mum who Dan helps to get by in shocking circumstances. The heart and camaraderie of those in our society who have the least is one of the most uplifting elements of a film that for the most part is quite the opposite.
Verdict: The most important element of Loach’s filmmaking and worldview is his affection and respect for those he is depicting. I, Daniel Blake shows his sharp eye can turn equally to the oppressive mechanism of the state and the real people who are crushed by it. A quietly devastating film. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Jimmy’s Hall (2014) is Ken Loach’s 50th odd and apparently last feature film. Which sucks because the man still definitely has a lot to say and can say it better than basically anyone else.
This is a film that made by so many other people would just be tired, period film blandness. But one of Loach’s great gifts as an artist (in my admittedly limited experience) is his ability to inject a lot of life into his stories. There were times watching this when I felt like applauding at the end of a scene because it was so rousing. The film is based on the true story of Jimmy Gralton an Irish communist in the 1930’s. Returning from time exiled abroad he once again starts up the titular hall, inspired by the effect that being away from a place can have on a person. Fashioned on socialist principles, the hall aims to provide education and amusement for all who wish to come. Importantly and provocatively, especially in relation to education, far from the reach and influence of the all powerful church. The film tells the uplifting story of what happened inside the walls and the rather more sober reaction that it receives from the more conservative nearby neighbours, who come in both fascist and Christian guises.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly why Loach can make this material work where others would fail. Which is not to say that what he is working with his bad. The slice of history, probably unknown to many outside of Ireland, is fascinating and the script by Paul Laverty is pretty insightful. Actually the script is a very smart piece of work as it connects day to day goings on in the film, a potential affair for example, with the societal structures that bring them about and influence how they play out. But there are many similar films about similar historical events and it is rare that they are this good or this engaging. Loach is also not really that much of a stylist. Jimmy’s Hall, like all of Loach’s work I have seen, looks good but nothing more noteworthy than that. It could be that Loach is unabashed to be political. He’s famously left wing, once withdrawing a film from MIFF because the festival was sponsored by the Israeli embassy and were refusing to cancel the sponsorship. So here he shows that the commies are the good guys, at least in this environment, and it is hard not to get swept up in cheering for them. This is especially true when they go against idiotic fascists and power hungry members of the clergy. On this front, and others, it would appear that Loach has the power to choose only those projects that he is going to be distinctly passionate about and Irish revolutionaries are right up the veteran director’s alley. Barry Ward’s turn as Jimmy does not hurt either, as he convinces you that he’s a dude that you would follow and buy into his personal ideology.
It is shocking that a film about Ireland in the 1930’s was made to feel relevant to 2014 Australia, but that is just one of Loach’s achievements with Jimmy’s Hall. Even if like me you have no idea who Jimmy Gralton was, you will still want to see this film and be inspired by the example that he set.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
The Canberra International Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday. Usually leading up to a film fest I have seen nothing, but this is a little different. Thanks to my work on the Blue Mountains Film Festival and some other opportunities, I have seen a bunch of stuff, and there is a whole lot of things I have not caught yet that I am really looking forward to. So rather than a rambling preview, here is my countdown of the top 10 things (in vague order) to check out at this year’s festival. Click the hyperlinks to head to the official site to grab your tickets.
#10: The Spirit of ’45 – Ken Loach is one of the few truly legendary directors still working today, and his recent effort The Angel’s Share prove he still has it. Whilst The Spirit of ’45 is a rather more muted affair than that rambunctious film, it is still well worth your time. Brimming with stock footage and interesting talking heads from those involved, the film which focuses on the politics of post WWII Britain shines a light on a bit of history that has not really been told.
#9: Jazz I haven’t seen that I suspect is going to rock: Around the Block, Our Nixon, Blackfish, Short Term 12, A Hijacking, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Kill Your Darlings. Incendiary docos, indie darlings, much anticipated Indigenous drama and a Danish Captain Phillips are just some of the highlights that I am hoping to catch for the first time over the coming weeks.
#8: In Bob We Trust – Father Bob Maguire is a bit of an Aussie icon or at the very least a Melbourne one. The free thinking and free talking Catholic priest was controversially sacked a couple of years ago. This doco follows the tumultuous fight he had on his hands and reminds you once again why it seems utterly crazy that the Church would wish to distance themselves from such a genuine, good humoured and charitable advocate.
#7: In Bloom – This Georgian drama gives an insight into that society and especially its attitude toward women and the embracing of male bravado especially the way in which it is magnified by guns. Anchored by a couple of really good performances from youngsters Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria, In Bloom might not always be the easiest of viewing experiences, but it is a pretty satisfying.
#6: Body of Work – This is CIFF artistic director Lex Lindsay’s first year at the helm and it has to be said he has pulled off a bit of a coup in wrangling this. Harvey Weinstein will be in town for a number of events and screenings, sharing his incredible experience and filmography. The festivities will be capped by the Aussie premiere screening of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
#5: Blue Ruin – This is a lean, taut revenge style thriller coming out of the States. It looks phenomenal, does not skimp on the blood, slyly commentates on American gun culture and benefits from a performance from Macon Blair that is perfectly balanced in its intensity and vulnerability. This is screening as part of…
#4: Freaky Fridays at my beloved Arc Cinema… featuring Patrick!!! That’s right, the film I have spent the last couple of weeks whining about not being able to see because of rubbish distribution is playing at this year’s festival. It is a little strange for a post-release film to play in a festival such as this, but given it is not playing anywhere else, why not. The Freaky Fridays at Arc also include screenings of Magic Magic and John Dies at the End.
#3: Cutie and the Boxer – Ushio Shinohara is a famous Japanese contemporary artist who is a bit of a New York fixture. He is the boxer of the film’s title as he is well known for his ‘boxing paintings’, Cutie is his wife Noriko, an artist in her own right. Refreshingly, this is a doco that is not afraid of showing people as they really are. As much as it is a 40 year love story (and it definitely is) it is also a film about the subjugation of Cutie by the boxer and how she gave up her own dreams to allow him to fulfil his own.
#2: Child’s Pose – This critically lauded film won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale. You can see why too, this is a nuanced and very psychological film. … plays one hell of a mother in a really unsettling role. In fact unsettling is the best word to describe the film as a whole and it is probably unlike anything else you will see at this year’s fest.
#1: Broken Circle Breakdown – I will make this really simple for you. Broken Circle Breakdown is the best film I have seen this year. Actually, the best film I have seen this year or last year. I programmed it in the Blue Mountains Film Festival this year and it took out the Silver Yowie award for best feature. Combining the soul of bluegrass with all of life’s most powerful emotions in a mind bogglingly good and multilayered film, this is the unmissable experience of this year’s Festival.
Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share (2012) was one of my top 5 films of last year. I was lucky enough to catch it again on the big screen tonight as it has just started a brief season at Arc Cinema here in Canberra. So I thought I would take the chance to share some more in depth thoughts on this pretty fantastic film.
Loach is renowned for the social realism of his films. This is the only Loach film I have caught and it definitely does have that aspect to it, especially in regards the young people who have found themselves in community service and the circumstances that have led them to that place. But the film is also quite hilarious and if anything the straight comedy aspects of the film outweigh the dramatic side of things, though the balance is pretty spot on really. The film focuses on Robbie, a young man who has once again found himself in trouble with the law. The judge spares him jail time and instead Robbie finds himself in community service with a ragtag crew of lovable misfits. He also finds Harry there, the man who takes Robbie (and the rest of the crew) under his wing and sets them on the relatively straight and narrow. And the key to the new found hope for Robbie and his friends? Why the bottle of course.
The Angels’ Share is a film that is in many ways soaked in and permeated by whisky. Harry changes Robbie’s life by engendering a passion for the spirit in him. The passion of many for whisky is examined in the film and the rampant pretentiousness that characterises much whisky drinking, buying and collecting is skewered quite intelligently. This newfound passion for whisky that Robbie finds offers him a way out of his life, which has left him a really beaten down and oppressed young father to be. I won’t go into too many details, but rest assured that the eventual path taken is perhaps not a standard cliché one that you will be thinking of. It is a really great swerve in the second half of the film which is one of the things that allows The Angels’ Share to rise far above the conventional ‘coming of age tale’ that my plot synopsis perhaps makes it sound like. Much of the reason that the second half of the film feels quite genuine is that the film takes a fair bit of time early on to establish Robbie’s dark past. This is no heart of gold lovable rogue. There were times in his life when he was an absolute thug and the film finds him struggling to resist his violent tendencies to embrace a new, calmer outlook on life.
Robbie is played by Paul Brannigan, a non-professional actor. Or rather he was a non-pro, but it looks like this film has launched him into an acting career, one that based on this performance should be fantastic. Indeed a number of the roles here are filled by non-professional actors and it works really well. It is a contrivance that I am often not a fan of. Much of this is due to the fact that many directors feel there is something almost sacred about using non-pros and has a result a dirge of po-faced realism is all we get. But Loach is happy to let these guys let themselves go in this rollicking film. There is plenty of really boisterous humour, at times even verging into ‘gross out’ territory, and the latter half of the film is almost a heist film. All that being said they do also enhance the film by lending it a kind of laconic authenticity that I think would have been quite hard to achieve with usual performers.
The Angels’ Share manages to be an uplifting and life affirming film without feeling like it is forcing that at all. Rather, by combining a hilarious comic sensibility with creative escape from the trials and tribulations of life, it manages to create it in a more organic way.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here
Generally speaking these trailers are for future releases that I am excited about. Something a little different this week, because I have already seen this week’s film The Angel’s Share. Directed by Ken Loach, I think it is an extremely good film, and one that at least here in Australia has gotten minimal buzz. So check out the trailer and if the film pops up in your part of the world, be sure to check it out.
Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.