This year’s Berlinale will see director Ken Loach awarded the Honorary Golden Bear. In his 50-year career, the English powerhouse has helmed nearly 30 feature films and as many television pieces, and won assorted honours. Some have been more welcome than others – he refused an OBE in 1977 out of distaste for the British Empire’s exploitative history.
To dub a director “political” can seem akin to hanging a dreary millstone of earnestness around their neck, but Loach has a knack for breathing the complex back into tales of troubled people – in five decades behind the lens, he has brought a passionate but keen eye to bear on what in other hands could become staid “issues”.
He reveals the human crux of the story, whether it’s teenage drug dealing or intercultural romance in Glasgow (Sweet Sixteen, Ae Fond Kiss…) or working-class Yorkshire men floundering in the wake of privatisation (The Navigators) by mining naturalistic performances from his actors through distinctly unflashy means, such as filming scenes in chronological order.
Some of his most popular works showcase his sharp appreciation of how the best-laid plans of revolutionaries can crumble – his lyrical, wrenching look at how the bright-eyed ideals behind the Irish War of Independence sundered messily into civil war (The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and examination of the way the Spanish Civil War chews up and spits out an international gang of robustly well-intentioned young socialists (Land and Freedom) shy away neither from the zeal driving his protagonists to war, nor from the realities that await them beyond the looking-glass of revolution.
Though audiences might not necessarily agree with the politics onscreen (or off screen – his forthright views on Israel providing plentiful column inches), it’s hard not to admire the vigour and nuance with which they’re expressed.
It seems only fitting that a pint-sized but perfectly formed cinema should be the place to catch up on Loach’s back catalogue of beautiful close-ups. In honour of his award, Prenzlauerberg’s Lichtblick Kino will screen seven of his films this month. They are uncompromising in their examinination of the scars on a Britain Loach loves without simplifying, and whose old guard he was candid enough to snub – see why he still tells stories worth hearing. Check their website for a full programme.
Ken Loach – Filmreihe, Feb 13-26 | Lichtblick Kino, for screening times, see www.lichtblick-kino.org