Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004





Venice 2007: Triumphing against odds

A few weeks before the 64th edition – though 75th anniversary – of the Venice Film Festival began, I read reports of it having the best selection of movies in 10 years. I dare say the reports were correct. The choice of films was superb, and I got to watch several that pleased me.

Kierston Wareing in It's a Free World
Here are two connected by a common thread: of individuals triumphing against severe odds. Ken Loach’s “It’s a Free World” – which was not as compelling as his earlier “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, Cannes Golden Palm winner in 2006 – is drama at its cinematic best. A great script wonderfully shot and intelligently edited, the movie is engaging throughout. It is the story of a young spirited English woman, Angie (played by newcomer Kierston Wareing), who, failing to command respect from her male colleagues in the employment/recruitment agency she works for, opens her own centre with the help of her roommate. Angie overcomes terrible odds, including abuse and violence. However, when problems multiply she gets ruthless, violating rules and hardening her stand on the plight of those who depend on her for a living.

Loach is 81, and has been unwell with a minor stroke. Yet, his films have not lost their sheen, and are as entertaining as they are provocative. “It’s Free World” is an insightful document on the hassles immigrants face in Britain. Scenes of people huddled into tiny vans that take them to their workplaces every morning are disturbing, and when some of them assault Angie and get from her the money their employers owe them, it conveys the terrible predicament of illegal immigrants.

A single mother, Angie represents a small part of a big problem, and her tough stance sees her through the dark night, in fact many dark nights, but she is helpless when it comes to nurturing a relationship with a bright, young Polish immigrant. Such is the contradiction in her.

A patriarch of a large Arab immigrant family in France forms the subject of Abdellatif Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain”. He is, in fact, the counterpart of Angie, firm and solid. When he loses his 35-year-old job in the docks, he decides to use his severance pay for opening a restaurant on an old ship he buys. He gets the most support from the daughter of his lover.

Although the movie’s frequent close-ups, particularly those showing people with mouthful of food, can be an unpleasant distraction, “The Secret of the Grain” builds up to a fine climax, absolutely unexpected.

The writing and acting are good, but the family gatherings appear wee longer because of the helmer’s penchant for close-ups. There were times when I felt that he should have cut the scene. Despite this, the film makes its impact, and one remembers the visuals long after the screen has come down.

(Webposted September 8 2007)