Reviews

Ken Loach

UK, 2009

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 07 June 2010

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2010 Independent Film Festival Boston

Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric may have been the strangest film that I saw at IFFB this year. It doesn’t feature a heavily experimental narrative like the 2008 IFFB selection The Tracey Fragments or wear a quirky mix of genres on its sleeve, like last year’s Stingray Sam, but it is bizarre in its own way, wildly shifting in tone and plot.

One of the Erics of the title is Eric Cantona, the French-born former star player for the Manchester United, well known for his temper and his cryptic philosophical musings as well as his gifts as a soccer player. Cantona was one of the producers on the film and appears as himself, dispensing advice to Loach’s other Eric, a Mancunian postman named Eric Bishop who is reaching the end of his rope. (Brit actor Steve Evets, who saavy viewers will recognize from his guest spot on the excellent BBC series Life on Mars, plays the less famous Eric with conviction.)

Cantona is an imaginary mentor, ala Humphrey Bogart in Play it Again, Sam or Elvis in True Romance. (No wonder Cantona agreed to do a film that places him in such iconic company.) The athlete begins appearing to Bishop when the mail carrier nicks some marijuana from his delinquent son, and their exchanges provide the film with some amusing sound bites (my favorite probably being “I am not a man. I am Cantona.”). The scenes also provide Bishop with a convenient sounding board, giving us insight into the protagonist’s malaise. Bishop’s family troubles – his guilt over his frayed relationships with his daughter and his former spouse, and his struggle to connect with his sons – have driven him to such distraction that at times he forgets to deliver the mail altogether.

Bishop tries to help himself, with Cantona as a kind of guiding star, yet while the film can be funny and seems at times like a simple, happy redemptive story about a down-on-his-luck guy who finally makes good, Loach ultimately renders Bishop’s despair too convincingly for us to buy an easy solution. “Ever thought about killing yourself?” Bishop asks the Cantona poster gracing his wall, giving the impression that he needs more than some good sports metaphors to get his life in order. And the external world of the film is just as messy as Bishop’s internal landscape. Loach, who isn’t exactly known for his warmth and levity, can scarcely let his family share a nice dinner without the cops busting in and tearing the place apart. The film is unpredictable, which is good, but it also lacks cohesion: the most interesting things about it may also be what keep it from working. I give Loach credit for refusing to play it safe and nice here, and he did leave me with one of the most curiously haunting images of any film at this year’s festival – an army of men in Cantona masks – but Looking for Eric is ultimately wide of the net.

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