Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Navigators (2001) - Ken Loach

Uncle Ken's take on the fuck up that was the privatisation of British Rail. During the course of The Navigators we follow one Yorkshire depot from the start of said privatisation through the cut backs and right the way up to it's grim conclusion. But it's not anywhere near as dull as that sounds though, since Loach has a track record of dealing with subjects most directors would run a mile from (spousal abuse, immigrant workers, the homeless), and still be able to turn in a film that is not only moving but also eye-wateringly funny.

Ken Loach is the most important living British film maker, he's one of the few people that make films that not only raise questions, but also offer up solutions. As I said the most important living British director. Loach has a distinct cinematic voice, by mixing both professional and non professional actors he's able to achieve a form of realism that is lacking in his peers films. The script is used as a guide only, with Loach suggesting that the actors deviate from and change any dialogue that doesn't feel right. His films are filmed in chronological order with script pages only being delivered a few days in advance of the scene being shot, this way the actors don't have a clue what is going to happen to them by the end of the film. He doesn't block scenes either, or watch the actors doing their stuff on set, instead he sends his cameraman in documentary style to capture the scene as it happens, and orders everyone on set (with the exception of the camera and sound crew) to turn away from the action. He shoots fast and doesn't use sets, you'll never see a camera outside of a moving car in one of his films, every camera set up is dictated by the thought of realism. So no crazy angles, Michael Bay he ain't. Oh and there is almost always a three legged dog in there somewhere.

So as I said we follow a gang of Sheffield rail workers, there's about 50 or so of them at the start, a number which slowly dwindles to a handful by the end. The British Rail sign becomes East Midlands Infrastructure and then finally Gilchrist. With each name change come more and more idiotic policies, budget cuts and all the things that one would expect from this sort of situation. Of course this being a Loach film it's all shot through a socialist lens, so the story is told from the point of view of the workers and not management. It can be a tough watch at times, seeing people having to lower their own safety standards in order to remain employed being particularly hard to stomach. But there is so much humour in there too, and this is where Loach really outdoes a lot of his contemporaries. The cleaner who swears his way through the film, is as brilliant as any Python character, just the scene where he buys some chips is gut achingly funny. So much of what is on the screen rings true, far more so than say the world view of Mike Leigh, who seems so bloody middle class in his approach to the working classes.

I adore this film, I can't even remember how many times I've seen it but it never wears thin for me. Just like real life there is never any real conclusion to a Loach film, he normally drops in and follows a particular thread in someones life and then drops out again. His are the most obvious films to demand sequels, which of course is the sort of thing he'd never do, and to date never has. If you haven't seen this and like British films that don't involve Hugh Grant or have There She Goes on the soundtrack, then this could be worth a punt.

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