Cannes Film Festival 2023: between Ken Loach and the Croisette, history is still on the move

We are in 1970. Georges Pompidou is installed at the Elysée, Pelé wins his third World Cup with Brazil, Jimi Hendrix, De Gaulle and Bourvil pass the weapon on the left and a young 33-year-old director presents his second film, Kes, in Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival. Ken Loach already wears the look that we know him – round glasses and tow hair – and addresses the themes that are dear to him around the working class.

His film was released in relative anonymity the previous year, after a preview in Doncaster*, in the middle of the Yorkshire mining basin. Not really a city known for this kind of events, slips the veteran of British cinema to the Hollywood Reporter*. A failure, and it was probably a return ticket to the BBC for take care of TV movies*. But after the enthusiastic reception of critics on the Croisette, Ken Loach was dubbed on the big screen. It is on that of the Palais des Festivals that is projected The Old OakFriday, May 26, five decades later.

Cannes needs Ken Loach…

Of the 26 fiction films he has made, Ken Loach has presented 18 at Cannes, including 15 in the prestigious Official Selection, the auteur cinema Champions League. And, like the football competition which makes European supporters jump, we often find the same faces in the last four.

British director Ken Loach on the set of the film

The British director assures that his napkin ring at the festival’s closing banquet is not guaranteed. “All we hope is to show (to the selection committee) something they want to show.” And the Ken Loach recipe – a social theme, a script by Paul Laverty, a Rebecca O’Brien production, actors who discover their dialogues as late as possible, the low sky and the red brick houses of working-class England as a backdrop –, that pleases Gilles Jacob and Thierry Frémeaux, who have had the upper hand in the selection for half a century.

>> Cannes Film Festival: the puzzle of the selection of films presented on the Croisette

Gilles Jacob does not hide it in his Cannes Film Festival love dictionary : When he begins his program, the director of a festival does not know what the year is going to be like: will there be too many films? Not enough ? A good distribution between countries, authors and genres? One thing is certain, to reassure himself, he needs to rely on a solid base: these are the great directors. Hence a list of fifty directors whose reels land on the top of the judging panel pile.

His successor, Thierry Frémeaux, proceeded in two stages. Before the summer holidays, inquire about the progress of the next Loach. And at the end of winter, he writes in his book Official selection, “Having big names like Ken Loach on the radar is reassuring information.”

Already because not selecting Ken Loach would make even more noise than selecting him every year. And also because its niche of social cinema – consecrated by a place of 7th best British film of all time* For Kes in the ranking of the British Film Institute – still remains sparse. “Apart from a tenderness on my part towards the ‘old’ filmmakers, they are the ones who still hold the artistic territory”struck Thierry Frémeaux in Le Figaro shortly before the opening of the 2023 edition of the festival.

…and Ken Loach needs Cannes

This status of safe bet, the double webbed Ken Loach (for The wind picks up in 2006 and I, Daniel Blake ten years later) acquired it late in life. It wasn’t always like that at Cannes. I came a few times in the 1980s, when we were looking for any means to raise money. We stayed in the cheapest hotel, near the station”, he tells the magazine Deadline*. Even with the media showcase offered by the fortnight, his films are little or not distributed in the United States, and screened in barely 10% of British cinemas (94 rooms only for the first week* his second Palme d’Or, I, Daniel Blakeone of his biggest hits in the country).

The director owes his biggest domestic successes to Scottish audiences (The part of the angels was marketed as a comedy north of Hadrian’s Wall, points out the Guardian*) and Irish (the vivid memory of the Irish War of Independence for The wind picks up). At the international level, it is France which constitutes*by far, its biggest market.

In an interview with Echoes in 2007, Gilles Jacob took out his calculator: Festivals help auteur films by ensuring their immediate notoriety, by multiplying the number of sales abroad, by increasing the proceeds of these sales: the film has a multiplier coefficient of 2 if it is selected, 4 if it has a good reception, 6 if it has a prize and 8 if it has the Palme.

Ready to bow out for good?

Ken Loach still made some infidelity in Cannes. A sentence that is conjugated in the past tense. We find in his hunting list seven participations in the Berlinale (but no longer in competition since 2004) and five passages at the Venice Film Festival, the rival of the great Cannes raout (again, not in competition since 2001). The director assured that The Old Oak would be his last film and that it was impossible for him to say goodbye elsewhere than on the Cannes red carpet.

But is he really ready, this time, to hang up the camera? Not sure. In 2014, he already had makes similar promise* before breaking it a year later, after the victory of the Conservatives in the British legislative elections. He felt that there were still other battles to be fought. I, Daniel Blake, released the following year and crowned on the Croisette, had provoked a national debate on the organization of social assistance for the poorest. What to wonder if the filmmaker at 86 springs will not still one day feel the desire to step up to the plate, with, in a corner of his head, the rise of the steps.

* These links refer to content in English

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