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Legend of the Croisette: how Ken Loach conquered Cannes


The 1970 edition of the Cannes Film Festival was known for several bold new voices emerging. Robert Altman arrived as an established (and notoriously tricky) TV director, but left behind a Palme d’Or winner with M*A*S*H, his starting point to become one of the most pivotal figures of contemporary cinema. In the Director’s Fortnight competition, then a year old, the German absurdist comedy Even dwarfs started small gave the audience a hint of what a 20-year-old festival first-timer named Werner Herzog might have up his creative sleeve.

In the Critics’ Week sidebar, an up-and-coming English director named Ken Loach also made his Cannes debut (like Herzog with his second feature).

The bespectacled 33-year-old had arrived as part of what he describes as a “rather cocky” British delegation who didn’t have much time for someone then known for hard-hitting TV docu-dramas and not considered part of the “old establishment” . British film industry.” But at Cannes, Loach enjoyed a “terrific reception” from a crowd of like-minded filmmakers who were all “passionate about their work”.

Its second function, Kes — about a working-class boy whose adoption of a young falcon is a respite from a troubled life both at home and school — had its world premiere two months earlier in the northern English industrial town of Doncaster, somewhere “not known for its film” goes into premiere,” says Loach, and gained momentum very slowly through word of mouth in the UK. But the screening in the south of France would put the film – and its director – on the world map for the first time, a vital early boost on a remarkable trajectory.

“Cannes was very important,” says Loach The Hollywood Reporter. “But Cannes has always been important.”

More than 50 years after his bow on the Croisette, Kes is regarded as an all-time classic, a hugely influential work that ranked the British Film Institute seventh on its list of the best British films of the 20th century.

Loach, now 86, may still be regarded as an outsider to British industry, but he is a filmmaker who needs no introduction, regarded as one of Britain’s foremost directors, one whose name has become an adjective for a certain brand of kitchen sink cinema. He’s also gearing up for what will likely be his last trip to Cannes, ending what is arguably the most successful by a director in the festival’s 76-year history.

Ken Loach at Cannes in 1993, the year Raining stones won a jury award.

THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images

The 16 films Loach has since launched at Cannes Kes have earned him a record two Palme d’Ors (for 2006’s The wind that shakes the barley and that of 2016 I, Daniel Blake), three jury prizes (Hidden agenda in 1990, Raining stones in 1993 and The share of the angels in 2012), three FIPRESCI trophies (Black Jack in 1979, Rapalje in 1991 and Country and freedom in 1995), plus a few awards from the ecumenical jury (Country and freedom and that of 2009 Looking for Eric).

The old oak — which he says is “realistically” his last feature film, referring to his advanced years — will be his 18th film at the festival and his 15th in the main competition, something no other filmmaker has ever achieved.

While Loach may have gained worldwide admiration for his thoughtful, compassionate, and politically fueled social realism (and his commitment to leftist principles that have at times added an element of divisiveness to his work), Cannes is one festival where he’s simply, adored. Not that he takes any of it for granted or even thinks there’s a special relationship.

“I wouldn’t allow myself to think that because you have to do it every time – we certainly didn’t take this year’s invite for granted,” he says, claiming that the possibility of a Cannes launch isn’t even is called. while in production. “It’s like a football team and not wanting to talk about promotion. You just hope they see something in the film that they want to show.”

And Cannes programmers have repeatedly seen something in Loach’s films, whether it be a vivid character study of a recovering alcoholic (1998’s My name is Joe), a drug-drenched and heartbreaking portrait of juvenile delinquency (2002’s Sweet Sixteen), an uncompromising inquiry into Irish independence (The wind that shakes the barley), an angry plunge into the exploitative world of private military companies (2010’s Itinerary Irish) or a torrid removal of cruelty in the UK social security system (I, Daniel Blake).

The director flanked by the cast of The Wind That Shakes the Barley in 2006, left to right: Cillian Murphy, Orla Fitzgerald, Liam Cunningham and Pádraic Delaney

The director flanked by the cast of The wind that shakes the barley in 2006, from left: Cillian Murphy, Orla Fitzgerald, Liam Cunningham and Pádraic Delaney

Toni Anne Barson Archive/WireImage

There is an almost farcical contrast between Loach’s films shown in the various cinemas and screening rooms of Cannes and the ostentatious glitz and unnecessary wealth paraded outside – or, as he puts it, “the boasters of the big boats.” For the record, he says he has never set foot on a yacht in all his time there. And when he won his first Palm in 2006, did he celebrate with a champagne reception in a hotel suite? In classic Loach style, it was – of course – with a cup of tea.

For Loach, the real impact of Cannes is the “powerful” audience and the platform it provides him to present – ​​and discuss with journalists from all over the world – the thoughts and frustrations about injustice and opportunities for change presented in his films. world. “If there are ideas you want to communicate, that’s the best way to do it,” he says.

Loach with Pilar Padilla and George Lopez, the stars of his competition film Bread & Roses, in 2000.

Loach with Pilar Padilla and George Lopez, the stars of his competition film Bread & Roses, in 2000.

Pool BENAINOUS/DUCLOS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Loach’s second Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake, is a good example of this. The reaction at Cannes – including a 15-minute teary-eyed standing ovation – was the first spark that ignited the fuse under the film. It became a rallying cry for social justice around the world (“Moi, Daniel Blake” read a banner at a demonstration against austerity in France), and the subject is still debated to this day. Spurred on by Cannes, the feature film also gave Loach its biggest opening in the UK, and with $15.8 million at the box office, it is one of his most successful titles, behind The wind that shakes the barley.

But it wasn’t all about prolonged applause at the Palais (which he says wasn’t even there when he first came to Cannes). During a period of notable inactivity in the 1980s, when he claimed he “couldn’t direct traffic”, Loach recalls staying in one of the city’s cheapest hotels with a producer while they tried to find financing. “And we failed miserably — we didn’t get to see any movies, we didn’t get any invites, and we ran out of money and had to borrow some to get to the airport.”

Cannes Sweet Sixteen Film Festival

At the photocall for 2002 Sweet Sixteenfrom left: Martin Compston, Loach, Annmarie Fulton and William Ruane.

Pool BENAINOUS/DUCLOS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The hot Cannes streak started when Loach started collaborating with producer Rebecca O’Brien (starting with 1990’s Hidden agenda) and was further cemented when they teamed up with screenwriter Paul Laverty, whose first trip to Cannes was in 1998 with My name is Joe.

The old oak – Loach’s 16th feature with O’Brien and 14th with Laverty – finds them in familiar territory. Combining old problems with new, the drama revolves around the last remaining pub in a former mining town that has fallen on hard times and where dirt-cheap housing makes it the ideal location for authorities to transport Syrian refugees, immersing them in a divided community that looks like finding someone to blame for years of isolation and neglect. “It’s a really good Loach,” notes an insider.

Laverty – for whom The old oak marks his 11th visit to Cannes with the director – acknowledging the “sincere affection” for his friend among the other attendees. “You see people just stop him, take his hand and say thank you,” he says.

THE OLD OAK: Loach's 18th film at Cannes is his 15th in competition and, if he is believed, his last feature film.

The old oak


However The old oak will be hosted in the South of France, it will feature Loach and his band of regulars – O’Brien and Laverty, plus editor Jonathan Morris (who has worked with Loach ever since) Hidden agenda), stills photographer Joss Barratt (since 1996’s Carla’s song), cinematographer Robbie Ryan (since 2012’s The share of the angels) and sound recorder Ray Beckett, production designer Fergus Clegg and script supervisor Susanna Lenton (all since 1993’s Raining stones) — one last chance to come together and celebrate everything they’ve accomplished over the years. Hot drinks may be involved.

Loach, of course, has retired before. 2014 Jimmy’s room would be his last feature film, but the Conservative Party election in the UK the following year angrily dragged him back behind the camera Daniel Blake. Given the current state of politics at home and abroad, is he really ready to wrap it up?

“If you step up, you really are in the lap of the gods, so cross your fingers that you’re not in the obituary column,” jokes Loach. “But who knows.”


Prince of the Palace


Loach, 33, made his Cannes debut in 1970 (in Critics’ Week) with this career-defining drama.


Peter Mullan received the Best Actor Award at Cannes in 1998 for his portrayal of a recovering alcoholic.


Loach won his first Palme d’Or in 2006 with this war drama about Irish independence.


Cannes in 2009 enjoyed a rare dose of humor from Loach (and gave him the honor of the highest ecumenical jury).


His record-tying second Palme d’Or came in 2016.


Loach’s 18th film at Cannes is his 15th in competition and – if he is to be believed – his last feature film.

This story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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