Cannes is a bit of a mess this year. If the Festival's 72nd year has confused and confounded journalists by changing the screening schedules that have been in force for decades, the selections in the first few days have not been elevating – barring a couple of titles which were as moving as they were powerful.
The British master, Ken Loach, returned to Cannes three years after winning the Palme d'Or for his I, Daniel Blake. Earlier, he had given us works as hard-hitting at The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Bread and Roses.
This time, Loach knocked me out with Sorry, We missed You. A movie that most Indians living in cities can identify with, Loach's work is about the sheer cruelty of the corporate world and how it humiliates and tortures the men and women working there. We in India have seen the way food delivery boys zig zag on our killer streets trying to keep insanely unreal deadlines.
In Loach's England, the picture is as bleak. At 82, he is still as angry as he was in his younger days. His latest, Sorry, We Missed You, is a painful look at the struggles of the working class. This film is an apt companion piece to I, Daniel Blake ( 2016), which spoke about the unfairness of the welfare system in the UK.
Sorry, We Missed You is even more disturbing, because it focuses on the relatively young people in contrast to Blake that spoke about the ageing class. And Loach's open ending could not have hit me harder, and an ace director like Rajiv Menon (whose Sarvam Thala Mayam caused waves recently and can be still seen on Netflix), told me soon after the screening of Sorry, We Missed You that he openly wept during the film.
Loach's world is simple, and he goes about showing it in all its earnestness. Rick (Kris Hitchen) and Abby (Debbie Honeywood) are very ordinary couple, and they love each other and their two children – 11-year-old Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) and her older brother, Seb (Rhys Stone), just 15.
Having lost his job in a construction company soon after the global banking crisis a decade earlier, Rick thinks he can strike gold when he lands a job in a busy parcel delivery depot. His boss, Maloney (Ross Brewster), is a difficult taskmaster, who would never hear a reason for a slip-up, and Rick finds the delivery deadlines almost impossible to keep. Yet, he struggles on, for want of a choice. Abby is a caregiver, working long hours tending to the old and sick, who are often rude. But soon enough, the strain of their workload begins to tell, and when Seb misbehaves in school, typical of a teenager, cracks appear in the family.
Rick's life and his mounting debts that drown his earlier optimism (which drives Abby to sell her car so that Rick can but a delivery van, a precondition for his job) may be seen as running as parallel to the lives of many drivers in India who operate call taxis. Having spent huge amounts to buy cars in the hope that the assignment would fetch them handsome rewards, the drivers soon realise that they themselves have been taken for a ride – much like Rick .
Loach underlines the horrors of the system – sometimes sweetly, sometimes strongly. And they are shattering. A police officer gives a pep talk to Seb when he is caught shoplifting, telling him to treat the incident as a motivation to change his lifestyle. Later, when Maloney gets rude and unreasonable over the phone after Rick has been injured in a gang attack, Abby gives the boss an earful, firmly putting him in his place.
Incredible, even at 82, Loach has not lost the magic touch of making movies that stun, shatter and move us.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered Cannes close to 30 years)
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