When the screening of the film The Old Oak – the name of a pub –, a new film by the well-known and respected English director Ken Loach, ended, there was an apotheosis of applause in Piazza Grande with its 8 thousand spectators. At the Locarno Film Festival, in Switzerland, every buyer of a place in Piazza Grande, where films are shown on a 400 square meter screen, has the right to vote for choosing the best film shown there – it is the Audience Award . And the success of Ken Loach’s film was not only measured by the applause, it was also by the majority of votes.
This wasn’t the first time. Another Ken Loach film had already been chosen by the public, in 2016, was I, Daniel Blake. Nothing surprising, as the film had already won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, still considered the main film festival today. This film was Loach’s protest against the pension control system, privatized in 2008 in England, which subjected workers with illnesses to a series of humiliations in order to receive their monthly payment.
:: Locarno, the emerging film festival ::
This time, Ken Loach’s theme is the arrival of Syrian refugees in the northeast of England, a poor region, where rents are cheaper and the population suffers greatly after the closure of mines. The arrival of foreigners provokes a reaction of rejection, nationalism and racism among people who go to the pub or bar, where they usually gather in County Durham, England. And the film practically begins with an aggressive gesture by one of the pub’s regulars, causing the lens of the camera of a photographer who had entered the pub to fall and break. Would it be a film about denunciation and conflicts or solidarity with the foreigners who arrived there?
Ken Loach opted for a film emphasizing the awakening of solidarity in the local English community with newly arrived immigrants, victims of a situation generated by the war in their home country. The first reactions of rejection from the pub-going group are followed by gestures and actions of help, supported by unions and union members. Perhaps in this the film cannot be completely convincing, but its theme is leftist. The anti-immigrant pubgoers have far-right phrases and behavior.
When one sees, in the opposite direction, a kind of rebirth of the extreme right, like the one existing in Brazil even if it was defeated and the one that has just been asserted in Argentina, it would be worth asking whether Ken Loach had not underestimated the racists of duty.
:: A hymn to Iranian resistance and freedom ::
Would the poor always be politically supportive?, one might ask at the end of the film with some disbelief. Solidarity is not charity, says one of the characters in the film, probably to prevent gestures of support from being assimilated only to good intentions and the desire to have a good conscience. In any case, Loach has 50 years of political films with social human content.
And how did the public react, as a collective conscious of the need to support immigrants or sensitized simply by the attractive side provoked by human gestures of solidarity? No one is wrong about the political tendencies of the Locarno Festival, clearly visible in the choice of films in the different screenings and in the awards given out. But does the public share this preference? An audience that applauds Ken Loach – not once, but twice – leaves no room for doubt.
*Rui Martins is a journalist, writer, ex-CBN and ex-Estadão, exiled during the dictatorship. Creator of the first international movement of emigrants, Brasileirinhos Apatridas, which led to the recovery of the native Brazilian nationality of the children of emigrants with Constitutional Amendment 54/07. He wrote “Dirty Money from Corruption”, about Maluf’s Swiss accounts, and the first book about Roberto Carlos, “A Rebellion Romantic da Jovem Guarda”, in 1966. He was a contributor to Pasquim. He studied at IRFED, l’Institut International de Recherche et de Formation Éducation et Développement, did a master’s degree at the Institut Français de Presse, in Paris, and Law at USP. He lives in Switzerland, correspondent for Expresso de Lisboa and Correio do Brasil.
**This is an opinion article. The author’s view does not necessarily express the editorial line of the newspaper Brasil de Fato.
Editing: Rodrigo Chagas