By Utpal Borpujari in Cannes
Hope, joy, sorrow, grief, suspense, anguish, delirious ecstasy. All this and more are more packed into the 90 minutes of every football match. Probably because of this journey of emotions football is considered the unquestionable king of games the world over.
It is this aspect of the game that inspired British director Ken Loach to make “Looking for Eric”, a light-hearted film where life’s joys and sorrows are looked at through the philosophies of the sport.
Vying for the top award of Palme d’Or at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, this Loach film is miles away from his tragic tale “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”, the 2006 Palme d’Or winner.
This is probably the first film by Loach, a director known for his heavy-on-the-mind work, that will have a mass appeal when it gets its commercial release, and quite clearly, the film was loved by viewers as well as critics at the festival.
And if French football legend Eric Cantona plays himself in a crucial role in the film, can the Cannes crowd not like it? No way.
The film is, however, not about Eric the footballer, but is about Eric Bishop the postman, who has several problems in his life. As he seems ready to get drowned in despair, comes in Cantona, as an imaginary presence that only he can see and feel and talk to.
Cantona freely doles out football philosophy to Eric the postman as a way to resolve his issues, and through a roller coaster ride of emotions, he does get over them with the help of his friends and family.
Cantona, who is the executive producer of the film, has acted in quite a few movies earlier, but this is the first time that he has played himself. And as in real life, he does come up with quite a few lines that will help the film connect with his fans and film viewers.
“Change your religion, change your politics, change your wife, change your food, but never change your favourite football club,” he says in the film. The film itself begins with a quote from Cantona, “It all began with a beautiful pass”, and goes on to have quite a few other gems from him, such as “don’t let them surprise you, instead you surprise them” and “if it does not work with the right foot, use the left foot”, which help take the storyline forward.
For Loach, this film is about the parallels between life and the game of football. “This is a game that brings people together. It for a short period gives people the notion of nationalism in the most beautiful way, even though the idea of nationalism otherwise is not very attractive,” he says.
Like Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock”, this film also has brought a lighter touch to the Cannes Competition which this time is wrought with films that have complex content. This might have to do with the filmmakes’ subconscious response to the global recessionary gloom, but then, that is no mean achievement by both Lee and Loach, whose recent works have been stories full of tragedy.