Ken Loach's cinematic style is mostly associated with Free Cinema/Cinéma-vérité and social realism's aesthetics of the 1960s and 1970s.Yet, he uses few cinematic effects, preferring to highlight actors' performance, and not make the camera too visible. He is very famous among those who have worked with him for being very detached from the use of camera. Trevor Griffiths, with whom he made Fatherland, said that "if Loach could make a film without a camera, he would. He just wants the actors to be themselves so that everything looks as though it has just happened". As we have seen earlier, Loach is very attentive to the degree of authenticity his films have. Actors have to look as close as possible to the part, hence the use of unprofessional actors, who may have broader ranges of experiences, who may have done other jobs. Their experience is thus taken as a bonus for the level of reality of the films: Robert Carlyle had worked on a building site before Riff Raff; Elpidia Carillo is a Mexican immigrant, and had to work in clandestine conditions when she first came to America. So her part in Bread and Roses is not so much acting, but it is a part of her own life. David Bradley, who played the part of Billy in Kes, actually came from the city where the action of the film is situated. To that extend, one can say that Loach films the real, as he gives faithful and reliable pieces(some of what is filmed has really happened) of experiences to the spectators. The most striking example is Fatherland, which relates the story of an East Germany dissident, Klaus Drittemann going to the West, because he is forced into exile. Gerulf Pannach, who plays the part of Klaus, is a real dissident; the journalists at the press conference sequence are real journalists who had been asked to ask their own questions: this scene was more than mere improvisation, which is a device commonly used by Loach; it was the real into the fiction. He justifies the use of non-professional actors because he sometimes need something "raw and direct", which reminds of documentary techniques. Loach explains this choice by saying that some of the parts he wants them to do require a certain spontaneity: "I think it works quite well if among experienced actors you put people in who haven't done much, because they make everyone go to the first principles". This device is a mean for Loach to make it easier for spectators to appropriate themselves the movie, as limits between fiction and realities are blurred. I am talking of realities, because reality in Loach's movies is not univocal; it has several layers, as many as there are points of views, even if Loach himself stresses the fact that the narration remains a working-class narration: "I am trying to express a point of view, not about working class people, but working class people's point of view". So this is strictly another way to look at things. He is very straight-forward about what he wants his films to be, and according to him, it is a shame that his films should be discussed on an aesthetic level, at the expense of their true stakes, that is to say a social and political criticism meant to generate a debate. His fictions are rooted in the real, they do not create their own reality. His concern with being as accurate as possible with the "reality effect" leads him to choose very carefully the actors and the locations of the shooting, because it is a guaranty of an optimal realism. If we consider the scenario of Riff Raff, for instance, Bill Jesse, who wrote it, gathered his own experiences as a worker on building sites. To Loach, people and place are things that matter for the level of authenticity: "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."
It seems that Loach wants to know as much as possible about the subjects he films, and it certainly is a point of view that is very documented. Nevertheless, his fictions remain powerfully moving, and not necessarily detached from his characters. Realism in Loach's work is much a question of aesthetics than one of social environment that is at the origin of the plots. As such, he is very much an observer of a certain type of politics that generates a certain type of society. This does not correspond to the type of realism described and commented by André Bazin, in What is cinema?. According to him, realism is a non-biased point of view, neutral and not committed to the characters' actions. And this is sometimes how Loach's films have been described, especially in the 1980's. However, this does not work in the perspective of Loach's way of describing nor the locations nor the characters. It is true that some scenes give the impression that the camera is hold deliberately away from the people, or that it does not choose to take part. This is the case in Riff Raff, in which the scene of confrontation between Stevie and Susan is shot in a very curious way, with a frontal shot, whereas such a climactic moment would be expected to be shot in a shot/reverse shot pattern. Yet, this is chosen by the director, and the choice of staying away from the broken couple is a perspective. It also enables the viewers to take into consideration the place where the confrontation occurs, and shows how the reality of the building site, which is the workers' reality, has deep consequences on the rest of their lives, as the place itself has made them aware, all along the movie, of the instability of the system they belong to. This awareness will finally lead Stevie and one of his mate to set the aggressive symbol of capitalism on fire.
As Roy Armes puts it, Loach practices "an art of the real", which clearly means that his work is to be understood as unique in a broader tradition of realist film makers. What is interesting in Loach's movies is that even if they are known from the beginning to be engaged, uncompromising, and maybe a little didactic, they also have a real sense of characterization, and such characters as Billy, Maggie, Bob, or Joe are unforgettable in the mind of viewers because they embody a general culture, and the heritage of a working class tradition. Loach has often recognizes that his influences were European, and located in the post-war era. The Italian neo-realist directors like Rossellini(he makes a direct reference to Paisa), Czech Cinema and French New Wave directors have influenced him more in a way that departed from classical Hollywood frameworks and narrations. What's more, and this is more specific to Italian neo-realism, he was from the beginning interested in lower classes commitment and reaction to political events. Ordinary people thus become his favourite grounds of observation. In the very word "observation", which is according to some critics Loach's "favourite sport", there is something which stands at the opposite of realism: in an interview with Karim Dridi,Loach says that the camera should not be too close to the actors, in order to give them space enough to compose their part and to restore an emotion with the spontaneity that is required from Loach. Nevertheless, that does not prevent him from playing tricks to his actors, so as to test their reaction, and then guide them to sharpen the performance. Ricky Tomlinson, in Dridi's documentary, says of Loach that he is a "practical joker", referring to the shooting of the scene in Riff Raff in which Loach did not tell him that the veiled women would enter the bathroom while he was taking a bath. As a matter of fact, it is obvious that his fictions have become more constructed around characters coping with an hostile environment, whereas his previous films of the late sixties and seventies tended to focus on the environment in itself, hence the more extensive use of documentary techniques. In Cathy Come Home, there are bits of the film where an off-voice gives figures about the homeless in London and in great cities like Liverpool. This typical documentary device is used in his 1965 television work Up The Junction, in which a voice gives figures about the number of illegal abortions and the number of resulting deaths. Such devices are absent in his 1990s films, and the focus is narrowed to a more complete analysis of the characters' psychology, their motivation and their choices. Following Julia Hallam's categorization of realism, what can be considered as expositional realism in the first half of Loach's career has turned to rhetorical realism, meant to dissociate "objective" realism and another realism which uses more conventional devices (like the happy ending in Raining Stones, or the dramatic event like the fire at the beginning of Ladybird). The films thus became less realist, in the strict sense of the term, than naturalistic: referring to Emile Zola's social novels, Deborah Knight pictures Loach's films as "critical realist", which is quite accurate, if we consider the amount of socio-political analysis and criticism in every movie. In this perspective, the films are to be understood in relation to the viewers, as Zola experimented with his novels the impression that readers must reconceive the purpose of the novel. This is very much true if applied to Loach's work: his films are not cinematic for the only purpose of being cinematic, that is to say, to be an art production completed without the viewers. In fact, Loach is only making films for the very purpose of making people react, of making them rethink the way they are used to seeing what they have just watched in another way. There is something very Brechtian about that, in that Loach often gives unusual perspectives about people. Brecht reacted against a certain type of realism, understood as a depicted reality that people cannot change: if everything is portrayed as static, then it can never be shifted. In Loach's films, characters may find it hard to change their situation, but whatever the price is, they try. As Jim Allen puts it, Loach and himself like "people who shake their fist, who act for change". Thus, Loach does not produce a kind of reality that would be reality in itself, but a set of discourses produce a certain reality. There is a crucial distinction between a set of discourses and a visual discourse that guarantees truth: here there is what is known as a "contradiction of the real", Loach relies heavily on it. Let's have a closer look at Cathy Come Home. Very often, viewers get shots of Cathy and her family, while Cathy's voice comments upon her homelessness, her being pregnant…It is not always clear if those comments belong to the actual moment of the narration(when we see the images) or if they are posterior comments. The narrative thus mingles two kinds of discourses, one of which tries to enlighten the other. The spectator is given two perspectives. In Up The Junction as well, off-voices give figures while Rube is seen walking in the woods, whereas viewers know this is the time when she gets the abortion. This ellipse, and its replacement by the figures given by a "objective" and unknown voice clearly set the film in a political and social context: abortion as it was practised, that is to say not chirurgical because it was still illegal at the time, is condemned and the political criticism is clear. So reality is not so much an objective set of images given to the spectator to judge by himself of the situation. It is an accurate description of what goes on for some people, from their point of view. As such, memories are central in Loach's movies, because they condition characters' perceptions and reactions to events. The way in which people build themselves individual memories and how they link it to collective history determine their capacity to cope with a present that is sometimes impossible to manage.
"One of the things that is interesting is the connection between people's past and their present"
When Ken Loach said this, he was talking about
the importance of memories, and how they affected people's day-to-day lives.
It may seem slightly secondary to study memories, because the films usually
concentrate very much on the connection between people and their environment
or their social institutions. It is clear, however, that individual memories
underlie some characters' acts, like Maggie, Stevie, Joe and Rosa. Some of
their acts are not totally conditioned by their environment, which is different
from earlier characters such as Cathy or Janice, Mike, or even Bob. These
characters act in response to what immediately happens to them: homelessness,
unemployment, misunderstandings within families, lack of money…On the other
hand, it seems that the recollection of memories as a painful, or at least
problematic experience for characters, adds to the narrative's depth. Where
memories are concerned, narratives gain in subjectivity, and viewers are not
in front of a distant representation of reality anymore. Moments of recollections
are often moments of great intensity, because they give clues about characters'
lives and traumas. In addition, such moments help to remove viewers out of
a passive state, because of the gravity of the events that is unveiled: this
is obvious in Ladybird. Viewers may not understand Maggie's anger,
because they do not have all the clues that would enable them to understand.
This point is very interesting because, thanks to this narrative technique,
Loach parts from his habit of setting his characters' psychology according
to social environments. It becomes deeply personal, and this requires a fine
analysis from viewers; they have to combine a social analysis to an understanding
of personal events, in which they cannot intervene. Neither can Loach. The
scenes of recollection are filmed as if the character himself(or herself)
remembered it. These scenes are very subjective, because they try to make
the character take control of his own story. Maggie remembers the violence
of the relations between her parents, and what viewers see are only fragments
of the scene, filmed from a specific point of view: Maggie's, when she was
a child. This focalisation is quite unusual in Loach' works, if we consider
that he often prefers to do a minimum camera-work, and allows actors space
to fit into the location. It is striking to see that, during the scene in
question, it is very difficult to actually see where it takes place, because
everything is so quick and confused at the same time. The depth of field is
very low, so everything is blurred. Viewers understand that the little girl
is Maggie as a child; her face is the only thing in the scene that can be
seen clearly, as if the trauma her face expresses stood for the only thing
to be remembered by viewers, but also by people who are in power to change
the situation she is in, as an adult.
A similar theme is depicted in My Name Is Joe: even if Joe shares his memories with Sarah, the actual recollection is clearly made from his point of view: the amount of low angle and high angle shots indicates that the scene if seen through Joe's eyes, going up the stairs, then looking down at his girlfriend from the steps. Again, this is presented as his experience, and Sarah finds it hard to fully understand what really happened. This episode is shameful and painful to him, whereas it becomes frightening to her, as viewers are made aware of, when she asks him whether he is going to hit her or not, in another sequence. This is very telling of Loach's concerns in memories: how are they received and interpreted by others? How are they perceived by those who are concerned in the first place? In Carla's Song, Carla re-experiences the atrocities she has witnessed while sleeping, and she just cannot cope with it, hence her attempts at suicide. In Riff-Raff, Stevie sets the luxurious building on fire after his mother's funerals, and his encounter with his family. It is also after this that he leaves Susan. When he tells her that she lives in "a fucking bubble", he also means that he lives in another "real" world, in which he refuses to be crushed by bosses and hard working conditions, as well as by Susan's lies. It is no coincidence that he should do this after viewers have been revealed his true identity. They are made aware that Stevie wanted to erase his former life, and start a new one. But his past catches up with him. As Ken Loach points out, the relation between people's past and their present conditions their acts:
you can never escape the past, […] 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 thing you do.
As Stevie sets on fire the building that represents an oppressive symbol of humiliating conditions of working, of living, he also shows he can cope with his present, in his own way. His act does not stand for a constructed political discourse, but at least he escapes social determinism, because he fights back. Having confronted his past, and also his origins, he is able to take an active part in the present. This step from passivity(bearing what is imposed and painful without discussing) to activity, and even activism, is seen as an awakening to social and political awareness. Confronting one's past is always beneficial in the sense that it helps characters to be aware of their own identity and needs. This is truly the case for Carla and Rosa: both of them are damaged by what they had to do in the past, and the recollection of it. Rosa, who seems to be very strong and determined throughout the film, falls apart when she confronts her sister. The fact of revealing her past enables Maya to understand(though not necessarily excuse) Rosa's betrayal. Curiously enough, there are no flash-backs in Bread and Roses, whereas it was something Loach seemed to consider as efficient in his four last films, as a means to convey an authentic account of past, the way it had been felt by his characters. Instead, the intensity is conveyed by Maya's reaction to her sister's revelation, and this is all the more powerful that viewers can identify with Maya, at that point. Indeed, they have to reconsider the whole story, with what has been presented to them as another level of reality: beyond the janitors' struggle, there are individual tragedies that prevent people coping collectively with a situation that concerns a larger group; more generally, Loach's films deal with the connection between people's past, and its consequences on our present.
Most of Loach's
films are about the connections between past and present. According to Loach,
it is central because it " builds up a whole nation, a whole state".
What many of his movies urge the viewers to reclaim is their cultural heritage,
which is often disavowed. There is always something in Loach's representation
of the past that echoes contemporary societies, because the concerns are the
same, and he encourages viewers to raise lessons of the past to take control
of the present. I will concentrate on Land and Freedom, which is the
most obviously interesting in this particular regard, because the narrative
directly mingles past and present. I will also refer to Carla's Song,
because it also deals with historical knowledge, and how it is transmitted
In these films, central characters have to question their knowledge in order to understand what is really going on in the foreign countries in which the films take place. The questioning of knowledge is a theme that is very telling of several layers of reality in these fictions: George, in Carla's Song, thinks he may better understand Carla if he has some general historical background of what happened in Nicaragua. Therefore, he asked his sister who is still at school. But this institutional knowledge does not help him at all, on the contrary: it blurs the limits between what is supposed to have happened and what has actually happened. Bradley, the American journalist, stands as a counter voice to what George's sister learnt at school. Loach implies in both Carla's Song and Land and Freedom that people do not know a certain face of their history, which conditions, to a certain extend, their incomprehension of the present. Metaphorically, Carla does what viewers are invited to do: she has to confront her past, in order to be able to live the present. Past and present are intimately tied, and in this respect Loach is very close from Marx's historical materialism: individuals act in conformity with social forces that determine them, not deliberately. As a product of a certain type of culture, that tends to be more and more defined by the market, freedom is a very relative notion in a capitalist society. Basically, freedom is at the centre of most of Loach's films: being free to decide where to live and where to work, being free to have a baby(Family Life), being free and being protected(Jorge in Ladybird). Freedom is something that is worth fighting for: in Land and Freedom, David joins the Spanish POUM in order to help freeing Spain from the fascists. As usual, in Loach's movies, the central character is going to question his own idea of the war by learning about the fight of interests between the POUM and the communist party. What is at the centre of Loach's analysis in this film is that the interests of the people are not best represented by political parties, whether they are left or right wing parties. In this regard, Loach cannot really be accused of being didactic, since he really tackles the theme of power as being a source of conflict in every political party. The death of Blanca, who represents the authentic spirit of revolution, is the ultimate political betrayal: she is shown shot in the back. According to Gérald Collas, her death is absurd, because it is shot in slow motion, and this sets the film out of reality. Yet, it would be a shame to consider this scene like this, because it can be interpreted in another way: it is true that the slow motion effect sets the scene apart in the whole narration, but I'd rather understand it as a mean to signify betrayal at large. It is as if this betrayal stood for all the others, because it is presented as off time. Debating is presented as a key thing in order to achieve the comprehension of past: the scene where the people from the village that has been liberated by David's group start talking about what should be done of the revolution, and whether the village should be collectivised or not, is very interesting in that it really puts people at the centre of fundamental preoccupations: debating is shown as a fertile activity, that enables men to decide of the type of society they want. This process takes time, and the sequence is quite long. But this is meant to show what is really at stakes in this revolution, and in any revolution. The film suggests all the processes required to organise people, in a democratic way. So the realistic effect rather comes from the people who play a part in the scene. It is a little different from Loach's earlier work. In Up The Junction for instance, or in Cathy Come Home, in which he concentrated very much on places: Loach alternated shots of people and shots of ruined industrial landscapes, to signify the impact it had on people. In his 1990s films, it tends to be different. Indeed, characters have gained in complexity, and they cannot be reduced to a place, even if it does condition a part of their behaviour. The part given to the spectator is greater as well, because some of the films do not have a definitive end, in that there still are questions or problems unanswered. For instance, in My Name Is Joe, the end is quite open ended: it is up to the spectator to give them a chance, or not, which is very positive. So there has been a growing concern for people facing a type of society, more than a specific place. This is conveyed also by the variety of places in which Loach has made his films since Land and Freedom. Viewers are made aware that whatever country is concerned, the problems of the people is always the same: struggling for more justice and dignity. The criticism of capitalist societies does not appeal to England only (his first movies were very much settled in traditional British urban areas), it is a reality in the whole world. That may be why Loach chose to make films in foreign countries. Anyway, Loach thus implies that the menace of capitalism, and even fascism, is everywhere. As Jean-François Baillon points out, the standing fist at the end of Land and Freedom is meaningful on condition that there is still the same kind of menace in contemporary England. In Hidden Agenda already, Loach had given hints of a plot organised by the FBI to destabilise labour government and enable the conservatives to win the 1979 General Elections. In Carla's Song, the character of Bradley explains to George how, again, the FBI helped the counter-revolutionists. One of the most important thing in Loach's regard on events is the need to remember things. He tries to make people retrieve collective memories, especially working class memories. In this respect, the character of Kim, David's grand-daughter, conveys the link between past and present: she is the one who enables viewers to take possession of Dave's testimony of the Spanish Civil War. Gradually, she makes her grand-father's experience a part of her own culture. This is achieved through the sound track: Blanca's death sequence is followed by a shot showing Kim reading the letters, and the music that had accompanied Blanca's sequence still runs onto the shot of the grand daughter, placing a continuation between the sequences, as if the lessons of Blanca's death had been transmitted. Another interesting thing is the position in which viewers are put towards the film. They really are in the same position as Kim. This way, they are invited to do all the historical journey without being really aware that both narrations(the present embodied by Kim, and the past embodied by Dave) are fictions. In this film, Dave's story is more than a simple fiction; it is history. This is established from the very beginning, when Dave assists to the projection of a documentary on Spain. This projection is in fact a set of compiled archives, but then all the sequences concerning Dave in Spain are considered as such, because for Loach and Allen(who wrote the script), these scenes are the authentic testimony of former fighters of the POUM. Indeed, Jim Allen insists very much on the fact that the script has been written according to different accounts he collected from people he met in pubs: those people had fought for the International Brigades, and they felt quite frustrated because they felt they have been betrayed by the Communist Party when it was over. Thus, the letters are a device meant to show that history leaves marks and scars, and that it is up to us to notice them. Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning that there is something odd about these letters, especially about the person they were sent to. Loach said that Dave sent them to his girlfriend in Liverpool, which seems quite doubtful if one considers some of their contents. Indeed, it is quite hard to believe that Dave sent letters to his girlfriend talking about his relationship with Blanca, which is what Loach expects us to believe. This part of the narrative frame is a little problematic, because it challenges the realistic effect Loach wants to initiate.
It is nevertheless true that all Loach's films seek to establish links between past and present, characters' actual lives and their memories, individual knowledge and collective history. The individual awareness Loach wants to initiate in every viewer can lead to the collective action some his characters come to. The transmission of cultural and historical heritage to younger generations seems to be crucial in order to be in control of current and future political issues. Loach's work is a set of working-class cultural testimonies and memories, as well as an accurate account of current occidental economic and social policies.
 Interview with Christine Aziz, "Shoulder to shoulder", The
Observer, 22 March 1987.
Interview with Madeleine North, "You've just been Loached", The Guardian, 30 Jan 1999.
 Interview with Madeleine North, "You've just been Loached"
 HILL, John, "Interview with Ken Loach", 1994, in George McKnight (ed), Agent of Challenge and Defiance, The Films Of Ken Loach. Westport, Connecticut, Praeger Publishers, 1997.
 Interview in L'Humanité, 13 May 2000
 See Annexe 2
 André Bazin, What is cinema?, Berkeley: CUP, 1971
 Roy Armes, A Critical History Of British Cinema, London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1978, p.307-311.
 Interview with John Hill, in George McKnight(ed), Agent of Challenge and Defiance: the films of Ken Loach.
 Karim Dridi, Citizen Ken Loach, prod Arte, 1995.
 Julia Hallam and Margaret Marshment, Realism and Popular Cinema, Manchester: MUP, 2000,p.101.
 Deborah Knight, "Naturalism, narration and critical perspective: Ken Loach and the experimental method", in McKnight(ed), Agent of Challenge and Defiance: the films of Ken Loach, 1997.
 Philippe Pilard, "Mémoire ouvrière, parole ouvrière", in Images Documentaires- Ken Loach.
 MacCabe, Colin, "Theory and Film: principles of realism and pleasure" in Rosen, P. ed., Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: a film reader, New York, Columbia University Press, 1986.
 When the film was broadcasted on BBC1 in 1965, abortion issues were hugely discussed in the Commons.
 See Annexe 1
 Interview Annexe 1
 See Interview Annexe 1
 Gérald Collas, "Land and Freedom. Le passé imparfait", in Blangonnet Catherine(ed), Images Documentaires-Ken Loach, 1997.
 Jean-François Baillon, "Vivre et Survivre dans Raining Stones de Ken Loach". Colloque Sercia/IEP "Cinéma anglophone et Politique(s)", Bordeaux, septembre 2000.
 Philippe Pilard, interview with Jim Allen, in Blangonnet, Catherine(ed), Images Documentaires-Ken Loach, 1997.
 Graham Fuller, Loach on Loach, London, Faber & Faber Limited, 1998.