Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looking for Eric - A Ken Loach Film

(I will have to get back to writing about the Decalogue at some point - I've finished all the films and just need to type up my thoughts about about them ("just" - HA!), but for now, I'll be posting reviews to a few other films that I've watched this year.)

Looking for Eric (Ken Loach, 2009)

Walking out of this movie, I had a big, probably silly, smile on my face, and when I made eye contact with a woman who was also walking out, we both just outright grinned at each other. "It was so great, wasn't it?" she asked. And yes, yes it was. It was the kind of movie that makes me want to hug a random stranger and laugh up at the sky; it feels something like being in love, I suppose, all that joyous giddiness. Strange for a Ken Loach film, right? I’ve been discovering Loach this year, and having watched three other Loach films (Sweet Sixteen, Raining Stones, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley), I've discovered that Loach is certainly the gritty political realist of the screen that people say he is. He shows us real, working class people and offers us no easy answers to their hardships. I am in awe at Loach’s skill at showing us these lives and fleshing out these characters, and especially in Sweet Sixteen and Raining Stones, making large political realities come vibrantly, painfully alive in particular individuals and the small communities in which they live.

Looking for Eric is a bit different. We are still immersed in the lives of working class people and in the life and pain of one particular soul. Eric is a middle-aged postman, lonely and unhappy, whose life feels out of his control and very far from the happiness he felt in love and in life in his earlier years. We sense that he is not sure how he’s reached the place where he is now, without a wife and love, but with two teenaged sons, who are living under his roof but who are essentially estranged from him, getting on with their lives and despising Eric.

The central device of the film, the device that moves the action forward, is a bit strange, but somehow, I completely accepted it. You see, Eric is a football fan, a Manchester United fan and a Eric Cantona, footballer, fan, to be exact. And it is through Eric’s imaginary conversations with Cantona, that Eric begins to see a way out of his desperation. I will not comment on that aspect of the film further, except to say that somehow, it works. It really works. And you don’t have to be a football fan to love the way that Eric loves his hero. It’s absolutely moving. I believe that Eric would be moved to action by that love and by that belief, however fantastical.

Along with Cantona, and also in the midst of Eric’s loneliness are his postman friends, his “lads,” who, we get the sense right away, are a close-knit, roughly kind group. There’s a wonderful, small scene early on in the film in which the lads are watching Eric wearily going through the motions of sorting mail and they resolve to try to make him laugh. I don’t want to give away the scene, but it’s simply lovely, full of gentle humor and warmth. Again, a small scene, but indicative of the film as a whole (though I should say that the film does go to some dark places).

Loach has a knack, at least in all the films I’ve seen, gritty and grim or not, for getting friendship right, for showing us the bonds of people with one another in small communities – they are relationships with no pretensions, they are not without bumps and bruises, but the relationships we see on screen make us deeply love these characters and the communities, however small, of which they are a part.

Ultimately, the joy of this film comes from the depth of the relationships among the friends and the family members, a depth that is revealed as the film moves on and as Eric begins to act, to change. The community is everything, and if Eric has to realize one thing above others, it’s that.

Some reviewers have complained that this film feels too neat, too tidy, that the ending, essentially is too happy and resolved. But I, for one, am satisfied with that ending. I love gritty Ken Loach, but I love the Loach who can see some happy resolution in the midst of the difficult, messiness of life, too.

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