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This interview was made during a phone call from Bordeaux to Ken Loach in London on 17 April 2001 when he was working at the post-production of The Navigators, at Parallax Pictures.
I was very interested in the scenes of confrontation between Stevie and Susan in Riff Raff, and between Joe and Sarah in My Name Is Joe, because you chose to shoot them differently: with a frontal shot for Stevie and Susan, and with a shot/reverse shot for Joe and Sarah. How is it?
Ken Loach: Er…Well, it's different locations, different situations…The first one, the scene in Riff Raff, when she comes to the building site…well, the location was…it depends on the location really. I mean, the place where they met, in Riff Raff, is quite eloquent. It's a big sort of large, old, wrecked, room, and the place seems to add something to the meeting; whereas the scene in Joe, it's in a small room, and I couldn't contain the two in one shot, because you're so close to them… to have them both in one shot would be quite ugly.
I thought there was something under the fact of shooting characters in a neutral way, with a frontal shot…
K.L: It's just what seemed right at the time. I can't rationalize it. Sometimes it seems good to hold characters in a looser frame; sometimes you want the intensity of cutting between them. And also, there's the interaction between the place and the characters, and also, the space you have, because in the scene with Joe and Sarah, it's such a tiny room: I couldn't get the two people in the same shot. It's not to give them equal value; the camera is too close.
You seem to think that place is an important thing, linking the characters where they belong.
K.L: Yes. They have to be as authentic as the place they're in, or the room they're in. Otherwise they become like actors, in somewhere that doesn't belong to them.
You don't like actors, do you?
K.L: Well…No, I like actors. It's just a question of making sense that they become part of the location and not just standing in front of it.
The emotional charge in Ladybird or Carla's Song is very strong, stronger than in Raining Stones or Fatherland, even if viewers can empathise as much. I feel, personally, that it's because it's biased around women. Do you agree with that?
K.L: Not necessarily. I think Fatherland doesn't really work. It's general to the film. I think the emotional charge in something like Ladybird, if it works, is strong just because the situation is very strong. I think men and women can have rather equal emotional debts. You can't really generalize in that way.
Do you think that men and women have the same perception of things emotionally?
K.L: Probably not. They may be different but I think they can have equal emotional debts, although their responses may be different. But I think it's very dangerous to generalise, really, about it, because then you'll always find someone who's different, someone who's an exception.
Memories are central in Ladybird, Carla's Song, or Land and Freedom. How do you think it affects people?
K.L:Well…One of the things that is interesting is the connection between people's past and their present; how you can never escape the past, how it is always present in one form or another; in the way people are prisoners of the past, always, in some form or another; whether you react against it, or try to forget it, or accept it, it's still implicit in everything, in every major things you do. So that connection between individuals at large builds up a whole nation, a whole state. The interaction between the present and the past is always interesting, and fascinating to try to deal with.
What about your next film?
K.L:Well, we're just finishing off, and it's about the railways. It's due on release in the autumn, maybe later, it's out of my hands. And it's called The Navigators. It's only a little film; we did it very quickly!