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Against austerity: a round of applause to Ken Loach

Maíra Tavares Mendes

Cannes festival, among the most important film festivals worldwide, is annualy held at luxurious Côte d’Azur, one of the fanciest in France. It could be referred as a cultural industry caricature, in which red carpet fetish and artists’ private life details come to the foreground while much less is said about new independent film productions far from Hollywood’s spotlights. However, 2016 edition definitely wasn’t more of the same.

If 1990’s and 2000’s were marked by individualism enacted by neoliberal politics, there has been a sensitive shift in our decade’s art production, which reflects more than ever economic crisis and its efects. 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s protest atmosphere reminds of another important historic edition, on May 1968. There was then a massive strike promoted by students and workers demandind the ceasing of the famous festival, movement supported by important directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Carlos Saura, Geraldine Chaplin, François Truffaut, Claude Lelouche and Milos Forman. There was resistance by Cannes establishment, though the pression was unbearable when four members of the jury – Louis Malle, Roman Polanski, Mônica Vitti Terence Young– resigned to join the discussions promoted by dissidents during the strike, leading to the interruption of the festival.

In 2016, two important events called attention in Cannes. First of them happened just before Aquarius exhibit, when Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Sonia Braga e others in the cast protested against Michel Temer’s illegitimate government, holding emphatic and displeased posters condemning Brazil’s precarious democracy, as well as interim government’s racism, chauvinism and corruption. The second one was the Golden Palm award to Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, followed by a powerful anti-austerity speech.

Social unrest can be felt in the labour world, family relations, the deepening of social barbarism through wars and migration crisis, the deterioration of living standards, and now also in cultural industry. The rise in the politization level shifts anticapitalist views off from marginalization as in prior decades to a core position in contemporary times. Beyond memorable film production technical attributes, it is important to have in mind the current context to fully understand the importance of Ken Loach’s award.

We must underline that issues challeging capitalism aren’t a novelty in Ken Loach’s vast work. The British director, which claims himself a Trotskyist, has portrayed capitalism contradictions in his movies on a regular basis, as much as beaurocracy (including on the Left). Issues such as immigration (Bread and Roses, depicting hispanic janitors in the US), war (Route Irish on Iraq war, another Golden Palm winner The Wind That Shakes The Barley about Irish Civil War, Land and Freedom on Spanish Civil War), intercultural conflicts (Just a Kiss, Carla’s Song), and his specialty, working class dramatic comedies (Looking For Eric, It’s a Free World…, Sweet Sixteen, The Navigators) are captured by the militant filmmaker’s unique sensitivity. He also takes a stand on more general debates as Palestinian support (he advocates for boycotting Israel), and is one of Left Unity’s (a British anticapitalist party which he helped to create as a concrete alternative to Tories and Labour Party’s socialdemocracy) most enthusiastic personalities.

I, Daniel Blake is an outcry against austerity measures currently being held worldwide, as it depicts State’s beaurocratic irrationality, to whom real lives worth less than strict abide by the rules created to manage scarse funding for social policies. The leading role is 59 year-old cardiopathic Daniel Blake, who seeks to get around medical advice to stop working when he meets Katie, single mother of two children fighting against homelessness, both characters portrayed in their storm of indignation facing their helplessness towards State machinery’s alleged impersonality. Loach is categorical in one of his interviews, discussing the cruelty against working class imposed by beaurocracy, as well as the urgent need to build alternatives. The filmmaker intends to “make people angry”, a “rational anger”, so that it leads to engage them in changing our society.

As Loach has stated before, “a movie isn’t a political movement, a party or even an article: it is just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage”. In a scenario of a deep intitucional crisis, communication and arts included, it is important to acknowledge art production which is politically conscious an deeply connected to anticapitalist struggles. Our round of applause to Ken Loach.

Maíra Tavares Mendes is an brazilian editor of blog “Se a Universidade fosse Nossa” and militant from the PSOL-Bahia.

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