One of the living moviemaking legends of our time is director Ken Loach. I personally watched almost all his films and respect him. The 82 years old master’s latest work “Sorry, We Missed You” just came to (a few) big screens in Istanbul last week. Having rightly calculated that I won’t have any time to catch it at a later date, I skipped both a Galatasaray CL game and Ali Babacan’s live interview on the telly, as I rushed to a movie theater near me. But sorry, I am afraid I missed Mr.Loach’s point this time around.
The subject studied here is again working class. The setting is Newcastle. A family of four lives in an archetypical two floors terraced house. Notwithstanding the wallpaper lifting off the walls due to damp that we are offered to sneak in some scenes, the setting appears almost idyllic to our untrained third world eyes. The main character is a construction worker who joins a delivery company as a lorry driver. His wife works as a social caretaker going from one patient’s house to another all day long. Presumably, both kids go to state-funded schools.
They are gentle, loving, caring parents. As the two of them work long hours, we understand that it is difficult for neither of them to be back at home before ninish in the evening. Worries arise, kids grow increasingly restless. The teenager boy draws graffiti on the walls and skips school. The younger one, a girl, is stressed and feels lonely. Their dad can’t even find time literally to pee hence pees in a plastic bottle. Many details in the background suggest a national health system in disarray. All this is brought to us with a “are you so thick that you don’t get it?” attitude during the course of the movie.
Now imagine a migrant family of four. Fast forward to Newcastle, I imagine the dad whistling through his working hours, while the mum soldiering on and even creating extra time to do some housework. The graffiti loving teenager boy who especially drew my ire in the movie, in my version, studies his ass off at home when he isn’t at school to be worthy of his parents. Most probably he will be contributing to his parents income by working at some uncle’s grocery store in the weekends.
Most definitely my characters come across as cardboard cutouts. But, unfortunately so seem to me from where I stand (or sit rather in the theater) the ones written by Mr.Loach’s sidekick Mr.Laverty. Yes, I do understand the point is to expose the neoliberal order. The inequalities, the social corrosion it creates. Companies breaking the rules and governments not regulating. So on, so forth, one gets the picture. Well to do just that, I may kindly invite you to watch two other recent releases: Steven Soderbergh’s “Laundromat” and James Mangold’s “Ford vs Ferrari”.
Both movies are based on true, real life stories. In the first one Fonseca (Antonio Banderas) of now notorious Mossack-Fonseca of Panama, a lawyer turned UN humanitarian diplomat turned crooked banker (because why not), muses as if to no particular person: “Maybe the world does not want to be saved after all?” In the second one, not a lorry but initially a WW2 tank and then a racecar driver-dash-mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) warns warplane flight instructor-racecar driver-entrepreneur Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon): “Ford hates guys like us, because we’re different.”
At the end of the day the point is that men in gray-suites, alongside their equivalent in coats and skirts, will almost always grind all of us down with blank looks in their faces. Some of us will stand up and grab the metaphorical bull by its horns. I am not sure writing a foreign policy column every Monday would count as such an effort. Yet inspiration is also readily available by Fonsecas, Shelbys and Miles of this imperfect world.
Mr.Loach’s hell can be many others’ paradise. Never in the history of mankind, less than ten richest persons in the world possessed more than half of the global wealth. But also, never in the history of mankind, humans lived so long and a billion people to global population was added in such a short span of time. Statesmen are in short supply in our time and at the same time all the public upheaval from Santiago to Najaf can be understood as a global rejection of being lead by anyone anyway.
Hence, while standing in solidarity with the Turners of post-industrial England and Dardennes Bros’ post-industrial Belgium while at it, I tend to believe that the Ken Miles (himself born and raised near Birmingham by the way) of the past are perhaps the future as well. Brexit and the upcoming British elections on December the 12th will be interesting to look at from that angle too. If Mr.Corbyn’s Labour loses, it would prove that most of the voters would have missed Mr.Loach’s point. Besides, from where we stand at these sunnier southeastern parts of Europe, we have anyhow way to go on democracy account setting aside the neoliberal economy’s follies. At least we have the movies.