Just as Adam Driver parroted “this isn’t going to end well” throughout Jim Jarmusch’s Opening Night film “The Dead Don’t Die,” that could be a refrain from the very start of Ken Loach’s “Sorry We Missed You.” From the opening scene it is clearly evident there is nothing but heartache and tragedy ahead for the struggling working-class family that is the subject of 83-year old Loach’s follow-up to his 2016 Palm d’Or winning “I, Daniel Blake.” It is just a matter of how bad is it going to be for them. I wasn’t entirely sure if I this was how I wanted to start my day at 8:30 in the morning feeling tension and despair for an hour and forty-two minutes sitting up in the nose-bleed section of the Palais operating on less than six hours of sleep, but so it was.
The film opens as a 40-year old guy applies for a job as an independent-contractor delivery-driver of packages. He has to first decide if he wants to pay a daily rental feel for a van from the company he’s going to work for or buy his own. He and his wife are heavily in debt but he convinces her to sell their car so he can afford to put a down payment on a van, even though it makes her have to resort to the bus for her job as a caregiver for people in their homes.
Among their woes is a rebellious teen-aged son who chronically skips school to spray paint graffiti. He sells his expensive goretex jacket that his parents splurged on for him to buy spray paint. His goodhearted eleven-year old sister is the anchor of the family, though she makes a gesture trying to save them that has grave consequences.
Any delivery driver, as I can attest from my two decades as a bicycle messenger, is going to face plenty of adversity dealing with traffic and the police and bad addresses and belligerent clients and breakdowns of one’s vehicle. It doesn’t take much to have a bad day. Loach doesn’t pile it on too heavily, but the adversity that climaxes the film goes beyond most driver’s worst nightmare. Both wife and husband are squeezed to the limit by their corporate minders, the thrust of Loach’s agenda. The film rings all too true from start to finish. There are no phony contrivances as questionable plot twists as in “I, Daniel Blake.”
“Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic, in the Palais immediately afterwards promised to be the perfect anecdote to the Loach’s glum primer on today’s workplace. There was plenty of lively music to revive my spirits, but all too much of the movie dwells upon John’s lack of self-esteem, battling a host of demons—an unloving father, alcohol, a manager who started out as a lover and then turned on him, loneliness and all the usual accessories of fame. There are enough strong and inventive musical numbers liberally interspersed to more than carry the movie. I was just hoping it could have had fewer lapses into the “woe is me,” not only to make it a more sustained upbeat experience, but for John’s sake as well. But he is one of the producers of the movie and wanted that side of his story told. The movie is framed around him attending AA at the height of his career. It ends with a few blurbs stating he has been sober for 28 years and that he found a mate that he has been with for 25 years and that they have a couple of children.
It was another quick exit from the Palais and then back in through the same gauntlet of guards checking credentials multiple times and passing through a metal detector and having my bag inspected. I at least had earlier confirmed that I can bring in my small water bottle, so don’t have to leave it on my bike.
“Atlantics” returned me to Dakar, that I had flown in and out of a year ago for my ride through West Africa. This film has been receiving much attention as the first film ever in Competition by a black woman, Mati Diop, who had acted in a Claire Denis film. It had received the first four-star reviews from the Screen panel of critics of films in Competition, though premier French critic Michel Ciment had granted it but a single star. He’s going to become known as “one-star Michel” as he has given out more one-star reviews so far this year than all the other Screen critics combined. His years of experience and discerning eye do not grant the moody style and mystical bent of this tale of a woman who is being forced into marriage with someone she doesn’t love the favor that others have. The woman is particularly distraught as the man she loves has left without telling her on a boat for Europe in hopes of a better life. Her camera shows frequent shots of the rough open sea, but never the crowded unsafe boat he has left on. There are reports that his boat has sunk not long after it departed with no survivors. As with yesterday’s animated feature on Kabul this was a worthy effort, but nothing exceptional.