“A place that symbolises freedom of thought”
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2014: In competition at Cannes for the 12th time, the English filmmaker discusses his latest opus, Jimmy's Hall
Having won the Palme d'Or in 2006 with The Wind that Shakes the Barley [+see also:
interview: Ken Loach
interview: Rebecca O’Brien
film profile], Ken Loach has plunged back into Ireland’s history during the first half of the 20th century with Jimmy's Hall [+see also:
Q&A: Ken Loach
film profile], screened in competition at the 67th Cannes Festival. Surrounded by his actors Barry Ward and Simone Kirby, his screenwriter Paul Laverty, his DoP Robbie Ryan and his producer Rebecca O'Brien, the English filmmaker spoke about his film to the world’s press.
The plot of Jimmy's Hall unfolds about ten years after that of The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Can the film be classed as a sort of sequel?
Ken Loach: The two films are linked. In The Wind that Shakes the Barley, it was about reflecting on a very complex period in Ireland’s history, with the War of Independence and the Civil War. Ten years later, there was still hope, and a movement emerged in favour of the poor dispossessed farmers. Through the story of such a charismatic man as Jimmy Gralton, I wanted to examine what became of this dream that had given rise to independence ten years prior. Because in reality, the old Empire continued to run Ireland without occupying it: the flag had changed colour, but not a lot else had moved on. But whereas The Wind that Shakes the Barley tackled a very broad subject with a story that unfolded all over the country, Jimmy's Hall is set in a small village out in the middle of nowhere, where young people just want to dance and write poetry, which is, after all, considered dangerous. My aim was to study a microcosm.
How did you go about recreating the dance hall?
We rebuilt everything, and all of the dancing scenes took place there. Then, as the film required, we destroyed it in a huge fire. In the story, the dance hall represents a safe place where people can meet up and express themselves freely, through sport, poetry, debate and even militancy, as Jimmy is trying to help poor people. There is also the essential element of the joie de vivre of the characters of the young people in the area. But this place symbolising freedom of thought then comes under attack. Furthermore, Jimmy and some of the other characters have a certain political awareness – they lived through the Civil War and are able to convey their experiences very clearly. We must remember that at that time, people didn’t let members of the working class speak out. They were thought of as delinquents. These are extraordinary characters, in keeping with a recurring theme in my films: presenting working-class people who give speeches in public and who share their experiences.
How did you develop the character of the priest who goes on a crusade against Jimmy?
We paid very close attention to that. The priest is a dogmatic and resilient man who starts campaigning against jazz and damns Jimmy to Hell. But the opposition needed to be sophisticated, and the priest needed to be thoughtful and realise, while still sticking to his guns, that Jimmy is an upstanding man, a worthy opponent who also believes in God. But the ferocity of the Church in Ireland at that time can’t be underestimated. Besides, two or three years later, it would send volunteers overseas to fight in Spain, on Franco’s side. But nor must we forget that there were also differing points of view within the Church itself at that time.
Jimmy's Hall begins with scenes of the financial crisis of 1929. In every one of your films, you tackle social issues and you take a stance on the forces at work. Is this film a metaphor for the current situation?
How can you ensure that people see things differently? Those in power want to conceal certain facts and they always try to dismiss any voices that are different. The one-track thinking we have in Europe is a real problem, and we must allow room for dissidents and allow their voices to be heard. In the film, Jimmy represents this area of freedom. At the moment, Europe is going through a period of very harsh unemployment and is living under the iron rule of ultra-liberalism, with multinationals that are in control of everything, including democracy through all their lobbying. If Jimmy were alive today, he would be fighting them.
(Translated from French)