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Ken Loach is a truly exceptional film-maker. Like Bunuel, he has seemingly risen from the dead (during Thatcher's reign) and re-emerged as an international force. I found his latest film "My name is Joe" to be a hugely enjoyable affair, perhaps a little less abrasive and direct than his earlier efforts, like "Poor cow" and "Family life". Even so, he depicts "working class"- people with the same warmth and insight as before.
The main character is Joe, a jobless reformed alcoholic in Glasgow with a heart of gold. In the attempt to better the lot of those around him, (and forget his self-loathing) Joe organizes a football team and makes house-calls on those in need of support, especially Liam and Sabine, a young couple in dire straits. Liam owes 500 pounds to the local drug-dealer, and Sabine has likewise racked up a debt. Joe tries his best to offer help, but when he is forced to perform a criminal act, he runs the risk of losing his law-abiding girl-friend into the bargain.
Joe is a character whom you instantly like. Even his transgressions won't make you think the worse of him, as he quite obviously suffers from what he's done. Joe wants to lead a "normal" life, stay on the right side of the law, get a girlfriend and what have you. But he just can't juggle off his past as a drunkard, he can't get off the dole and so hasn't the means to move away from his run-down apartment, his rotten little suburb. His only hope is to get someone to love him, someone to lift him out of the rut, to boost his self-esteem.
It is, for sure, a touching, humane story, beautifully scripted, shot in a simple style, and with a wonderful central performance by Peter Mullan. My question is, is it more? Is MNIJ a valid comment on deprived communities in Britain today? Do there still exist working class ethics like the ones Loach depicts in this movie? And are they still as relevant as when Britain was poor back in the 60' ies, the decade of Loach's first movies?
Granted, there are still poor, neglected people aplenty, but do they behave like this? This movie seems a little on the soft side compared to say Gillian MacKinnon's "Small faces", and even "Trainspotting". "MNIJ, I feel, is more of a self-contained Chekhovian drama than an attack on our bourgeois sensibilities.
(The soundtrack, by the way, consists mostly of dangerously out-dated glam-rock material from the 70' ies. Painful stuff!) Call me flippant, but I didn't feel like hitting a drug dealer, or tearing the social fabric after watching this movie. Perhaps it should have hurt more. Even so, it's a fabulous film by a unique director.
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