Saturday, May 14, 2011

2011 Cannes Marathon: Looking for Eric


(Premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in Competition for the Palme D’or)


2006’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley was a surprise hit at the Cannes Film Festival where the film’s director Ken Loach won the Palme D’or that year. The film was considered to be a major comeback for Loach as he followed-up a year later with social-driven film called It’s A Free World… that won a Best Screenplay prize at the 2007 Venice Film Festival for screenwriter Paul Laverty. For his 2009 film, Loach decides to stray from his socialist and political views as he teamed up with Laverty for a comedy-drama about a man seeking advice from his hero entitled Looking for Eric.

Directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty, Looking for Eric tells the story of a postman whose life is in shambles. Seeking some idea to get out of his funk, he finds inspiration through the man he admires the most in legendary football player Eric Cantona. With Cantona’s help, the man finds a new lease on life while repairing the relationships he had with other people. A film that talks about football fanaticism and how famous figures can inspire people. Starring Steve Evets, Lucy-Jo Hudson, Gerard Kearns, Stephanie Bishop, John Henshaw, Stefan Grumbs, and as himself, Eric Cantona. Looking for Eric is a fun yet somber film from Ken Loach.

Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is going through hell in his life. He’s divorced several times and had just been through a car accident. At home, he lives with his stepson Ryan (Gerard Kearns) and his youngest teenage son Jess (Stefan Gumbs) along with a group of lodgers. His eldest daughter Sam (Lucy-Jo Hudson) is student nearing completion of her college courses while taking care of her newborn daughter Daisy (Cole and Dylan Williams) while wanting her dad to re-establish contact with her mother Lily (Stephanie Bishop). Eric’s life is in shambles though his friends in the post office try to help out.

One day, Eric’s friend Meatballs (John Henshaw) gathers Eric and other mates for a self-help seminar to find someone that can bring them confidence. For Eric, he chooses legendary football player for Manchester United, Eric Cantona. His room is filled with pictures and a large poster of Eric Cantona where all of a sudden, the man himself appears to help Eric get out his funk. While Cantona slowly helps Eric out improve the situations in his life, Eric attempts to reconnect with Lily as he helps take care of Daisy for Sam. Cantona’s secret appearances help Eric make some changes into his own home by getting rid of the lodgers. Yet, he learns that Ryan is involved with gang activity as he sees Ryan being smacked around by a criminal named Zac (Steve Marsh).

Ryan’s troubles increase as Eric finds a gun and realizes that things become more troubling following a confrontation with Zac. With the police being involved to question Eric, Eric turns to Cantona who makes a big suggestion about how to deal with Zac in order to protect the family Eric is regaining.

What happens when a man’s life is in shambles and he needs someone to bring out the best in him? That’s the idea that Ken Loach and Paul Laverty create as they choose a famous individual like Eric Cantona to help out an ordinary man. A man like Eric Cantona is bigger than life to a lot of people as Loach and Laverty decide to make him more human as if he’s the kind of guy that an ordinary man could relate to in some respects. While Cantona is a guy who is successful, he talks about things that makes life worth living for while not talking much about his football career. The advice he gives are ideas to the way he plays football as well which brings some inspiration to a character like Eric Bishop needs.

Paul Laverty’s script definitely succeeds in exploring the life of Eric Bishop and the funk he’s going through. Yet, he provides back story about Bishop’s life and how he screwed things up with Lily when he was young and what happened. Laverty’s script succeeds in studying Bishop’s life as well as his personality while giving him some great development to how he changes his life. The only major flaw with the script comes in the third act with this story about his stepson Ryan’s involvement with crime. It sort of becomes a different film where that portion doesn’t seem to fit in though Laverty does manage to give that storyline a resolution that is truly entertaining in the wisdom Cantona provides to Bishop.

Ken Loach’s direction is mostly straightforward while he does create some wonderful compositions to play up Bishop’s life. Even as he starts the film with a car driving on the wrong lane to emphasize Bishop’s state of mind. Yet, Loach maintains an intimacy about the way Bishop is having conversations with Cantona along with scenes of Bishop hanging around with his friends in the post office or at a pub. Loach’s direction also plays up to the icon status of Cantona by bringing in footage of Cantona playing football with the spectacular goals he creates as reference for Bishop’s own fandom. Though there’s not a lot of dazzling brilliance in Loach’s direction since he chooses to play it straight. He does create a solid film that is engaging and inspirational without any kind of sentimentality.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd does an excellent job with the film‘s photography with its natural yet mesmerizing look of the city of Manchester. Even as there‘s small elements of sunlight that includes a great scene of Bishop and Cantona exercising near a creek. Ackroyd’s photography doesn’t have lush grandeur of his other work but it is definitely noteworthy. Editor Jonathan Morris does a very good job with the editing by maintaining its straightforward approach. While the pacing is slow at times, it’s only because it’s to help build up the development of Eric Bishop and his conversations with Eric Cantona.

Production designer Fergus Clegg and art director Julie Ann Horan do some fine work with the chaotic look of Bishop‘s home along with the intimacy of the pubs and the buses that Eric and his friends go to on their way to games. Sound editor Kevin Brazier does a nice job with the film‘s sound from the way the televisions sound in Eric‘s apartment to the streets of Manchester. The film’s music by George Fenton is wonderful for its plaintive, piano-driven score that plays to Bishop’s melancholia along with smooth, jazz-like pieces that plays to his more upbeat persona as Fenton’s score is among one of the film’s highlights.

The casting by Kahleen Crawford is superb for the large ensemble that is created for the film. In small but memorable roles, there are some great appearances from Johnny Travis, Smug Roberts, Mick Ferry, Greg Cook, and Des Sharples as friends of Eric along with Cleveland Campbell as Zac’s henchman Buzz, Cole & Dylan Williams as Eric’s baby granddaughter Daisy, and in the roles of the young Eric and Lily in a flashback scene, Matthew McNulty and Laura Ainsworth, respectively. Justin Moorhouse is funny as Spleen, a buddy of Eric who is always being the foil while John Henshaw is great as Meatballs, a man who reads self-help books who tries to help everyone including Eric.

Steve Marsh is very good as Zac, a local drug lord who bullies Ryan while later humiliating Eric only to get what he deserves. Stefan Gumbs is also good as Eric’s youngest son Jess who is wild only to be intrigued by his dad’s sudden new attitude while Gerard Kearns is excellent as Eric’s wilder step-son Ryan. Lucy-Jo Hudson is wonderful as Eric’s eldest daughter Sam who is keen on trying to get her parents together while dealing with her studies which she is nearly finishing. Stephanie Bishop is amazing as Lily, Eric’s lost-love who wonders what happened to him as she starts to see his old self emerging again despite his flaws.

Steve Evets is brilliant as Eric Bishop, a man who is going through the worst period of his life as he finds unexpected inspiration and a new lease on life through his hero Eric Cantona. Evets brings a realistic approach to his character as an ordinary man who eventually betters himself and remembers the old joys in his life. Finally, there’s Eric Cantona in a marvelous performance as himself. Cantona brings a lot of wit and charm to his persona while being very laid back and also funny. There is something about Cantona that makes him quite accessible where he plays down the superstar player that he is by becoming the man everyone aspires to be but also just a man as Cantona is just fun to watch.

Looking for Eric is an excellent yet enjoyable film from Ken Loach. Featuring an inspiring script from Paul Laverty along with top performances from Steve Evets and Eric Cantona. It’s a film that humanizes the famous figures who serve as an inspiration to the common individual. While it may not have the broad canvas nor the political commentary of his other films. Ken Loach has created something that is very accessible while bringing understanding into why football fans go to games. Even at their roughest moments where two hours of escape and joy is all they need. In the end, Looking for Eric is an inspirational yet entertaining film from Ken Loach.

Ken Loach Films: (Cathy Come Home) - (Poor Cow) - Kes - (The Save the Children Fund Film) - (Family Life) - (The Price of Coal) - (Black Jack) - (The Gamekeeper) - (Looks and Smiles) - (Which Side Are You On?) - (Fatherland) - (Hidden Agenda) - (Riff-Raff) - (Raining Stones) - (Ladybird Ladybird) - (Land and Freedom) - (A Contemporary Case of Common Ownership) - (Carla’s Song) - (The Flickering Flame) - (McLibel (1)) - (My Name is Joe) - (Bread & Roses) - (The Navigator) - Sweet Sixteen - (Ae Fond Kiss…) - (Tickets) - (McLibel (2)) - The Wind That Shakes the Barley - It’s a Free World... - (Route Irish) - (The Angel's Snare) - (The Spirit of '45) - Jimmy's Hall - (I, Daniel Blake)

© thevoid99 2011

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