Loach comes out of 'retirement' with new Cannes film

12th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Left-wing British director Ken Loach -- who turns 80 this year -- said he was retiring two years ago just before showing his last movie "Jimmy's Hall" at the Cannes film festival.

But he is back on the Croisette Thursday and again in the running for the Palme d'Or with "I, Daniel Blake", which has him returning to his roots in kitchen-sink drama.

The story of a carpenter injured at work and young single mother struggling with the cruel absurdities of the benefits system under Britain's Conservative government, it stars the stand-up comedian Dave Johns.

Loach won Cannes' top prize exactly a decade ago for "The Wind That Shakes the Barley", one of a handful of political history films he has made.

But his inclusion this year prompted speculation that he has rediscovered the surprisingly sure comic touch he displayed in "Looking for Eric", which featured the legendary football star Eric Cantona playing himself.

Loach told reporters that he mentioned retiring "at 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 get through this again'."

- Got his mojo back -

But he has since got his mojo and his hunger back.

The world of work -- or the lack of it -- has long been the favourite theme of the veteran director, a stalwart of English social realist cinema alongside director Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears.

He memorably visited the subject in 1991 with "Riff-Raff", which explored the lives of casual workers in London.

"Bread & Roses" recounted a strike by cleaning staff at a Los Angeles hotel, and "The Navigators" (2001) followed five rail workers as their industry undergoes privatisation.

But Loach has always been realistic about the impact his films can make.

"I never said to myself that my films could change things," he told The Guardian newspaper. "A movie isn't a political movement, a party or even an article. It's just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage."

Loach's roots are impeccably working class, growing up in Nuneaton near Birmingham, the son of an electrician and a dressmaker.

He did military service with the Royal Air Force before studying law at the University of Oxford, where he discovered the world of acting, directing and theatre.

- Social conscience -

Later at the BBC he began to make television films already marked by his left-wing politics.

In the tradition of social observers such as Charles Dickens and Emile Zola, Loach believes passionately that cinema can be about "ordinary people and their dilemmas" -- as in his early "Kes" in 1969, about a working-class boy caring for his pet falcon, which won two BAFTA awards.

A long-time collaborator with scriptwriter Paul Laverty and producer Rebecca O'Brien, his subjects have ranged from a teenage boy trying to rebuild his family in "Sweet Sixteen" to a recovering alcoholic in "My Name is Joe", which won Peter Mullan best actor at Cannes in 1998.

In his 19 appearances at Cannes, Loach has also won three Jury Prizes for "The Angels' Share" -- another comedy -- in 2012, "Raining Stones" in 1993, and "Hidden Agenda" in 1990.

The director has also been known to delve into history, dealing with the Spanish Civil War in "Land and Freedom", Sandinista-era Nicaragua in "Carla's Song", Ireland's War of Independence in "The Wind That Shakes the Barley", and an 1930s Irish political activist in "Jimmy's Hall".

Loach's political commitment saw him helping found Britain's Left Unity party in 2013, which advocated stronger public services and wealth redistribution.

The same year he released "The Spirit of '45", an archive documentary about Britain's post-war general election and the creation of the welfare state.

Last year he published "Art and Resistance", a collection of essays and interviews in which he explained his artistic process and importance of making films with a social conscience.

A documentary on his life and career "Versus: The life and films of Ken Loach", is to be released in June in Britain.

© 2016 AFP

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