Cannes 2023: “The Old Oak”, Ken Loach’s last humanism tour

Yara (Ebla Mari) in


Last film to enter the Cannes competition, so it seems that The Old Oak is also the last to be directed by Ken Loach, which has passed the 86 spring mark. We will be wary, nothing is ever sure with artists, social or not. Committed man and filmmaker, heir to “Free cinema”, whose expectations he will popularize in his documented fictions, Loach alone became a trademark during the 1990s, the benchmark author of the English proletarian chanson de geste.

In this respect, two of his first feature films – Kesin 1969, and Family life, in 1972 – set the milestones, to this day “unsurpassed” by its very author, of a work which will record with a vibrant humanism the great social changes of his time, always from the point of view of the weakest and most deprived. There is no place to place this potentially final film elsewhere than on this territory, from which it raises, on the field of ruins of the memory and the splendor of the workers, the last vicissitudes in date.

So here we are transported to a town in the north of England in 2016, where the movement of globalization, deindustrialization, the impoverishment of the working classes, the arrival of immigrants in distress, have thrown the people into the arms of ideologies advocating a more or less radical and violent form of “national preference”. What gives here this: the arrival of Syrian women and children, fleeing the murderous madness of the regime, in a former mining village; the welcome clearly decoupled between aggressive young nationalists and a small troop of charitable volunteers. One thing leading to another, an unexpected friendship is woven between TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner), owner of the decaying pub The Old Oakand Yara (Elba Mari), a young woman who learned English in the refugee camps and speaks it perfectly.

Solidarity of the vanquished

The meeting between these two characters, as they get to know each other, becomes clearer: both come from a past in ruins, both try to rebuild themselves. Ballantyne lived through the disaster of the mine closures. His wife left him. Her son no longer speaks to her. He runs a run-down pub which is nevertheless the last place of sociability in the village. Yara had to leave her country, leave behind her memories, her language and her father, who she doesn’t know is still alive. This old utopia of the solidarity of the vanquished will however come up against difficulties around which crystallize the fable of the film and the canvas of the faithful scriptwriter of Loach, Paul Laverty.

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