Jimmy’s Hall: to pray or to dance?
by Domenico La Porta
- CANNES 2014: Social, militant and political, the latest film by Ken Loach is a well-finished historical drama that will please a broad audience
The Cannes Film Festival has often selected Ken Loach, part of the regulars of the Croisette. The British director, winning the Palme d’Or in 2006 with The Wind that Shakes the Barley [+see also:
interview: Ken Loach
interview: Rebecca O’Brien
film profile], returns with Jimmy’s Hall [+see also:
Q&A: Ken Loach
film profile], a historical drama that takes place once again in the 1930s.
Jimmy Gralton lived in exile for ten years in the US before returning to his native Ireland to take over the family farm. The country that he meets is freshly emerging from the Civil War, and Jimmy hopes that he will finally be able to develop his progressive ideas there. He opens a meeting hall where everyone meets up to dance, study, talk or debate. This place of artistic and philosophical expression is met with immediate success, which irritates the Church, and in the town, tensions resurface…
The screenplay by Paul Laverty, a loyal collaborator of Ken Loach, puts the emphasis on dance scenes that bring a constant lightness to the film. Although the story remains militant, the most scathing English director was present to tackle its underlying social or political themes. Barry Ward, who plays Jimmy, has likeable charisma, which contributes to the generalised climate of fun. Moreover, the storyline of Jimmy’s Hall recalls Footloose, in which a young city slicker played by Kevin Bacon tried to impose dancing on a small conservative town in western USA and did so, despite the opposition from a retrograde reverend.
The Catholic Church considers the "Hall" as a harmful place, whereas it offers to the people an open and cultural space for exchange. The audience, strictly speaking, can’t take sides in this crusade against intolerance and for individual freedom. It is, nonetheless, carried out to perfection and brings together all of the ingredients to please the majority, whereas the major works in the cinematography of the director of Kes (1969) and Land and Freedom (1995) generally involve the reverse logic. The touches of humour — unique also to the films of Loach — thankfully prevent the film from becoming trapped in an unduly stressed classicism, and ultimately it’s good humour and the feeling of a job well done that emerge at the end of the reel (the film was shot in 35mm).
At 77 years of age, Ken Loach says he’s tired, and yet he has created a dynamic and animated film which gives the impression of a cinema that is easily packaged, no matter the complexity of the themes he’s dealing with. Oh the joys of experience…
(Translated from French)
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