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CANNES 2019 Competition

Ken Loach • Director of Sorry We Missed You

“Now, the worker assumes all the risk and has to exploit himself”

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- CANNES 2019: At the press conference for his Palme d’Or contender Sorry We Missed You, Brit Ken Loach unpicked his latest social-realist drama

Ken Loach  • Director of Sorry We Missed You
(© Joss Barratt)

Ken Loach is attempting to become the first man to land his third Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Sorry We Missed You. The film, like I, Daniel Blake, is set in Newcastle, and tells the story of how employers are using the so-called gig economy to get around employment laws and set impossible targets for their workers. The film starts with Ricky getting a job as a delivery driver but being told in no uncertain terms that he will be a contractor. 

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The movie is also about the devastating effect that the stress of working all hours can put on families. It’s a picture that definitely fits the bill of being Loachian: social realism with drama connected to hugely relevant social issues. Now 82, it seems as though every time Loach makes a film, it’s going to be his last one. Here is what he had to say at the press conference for the movie at Cannes. 

The film, like I, Daniel Blake, takes place in Newcastle; what is your attraction to the city?
Ken Loach: 
It’s a small city in the north of England that has a very strong character. It is separate from the rest of the country in a way, and has a history of struggle. It has a history of mining and shipbuilding, which are industries that have died out and have not been replaced. People really have struggled, and so they know this story and that of my previous film I, Daniel Blake really well. The city has the most vulnerable people living in it, and it has a distinctive voice that stems from the majority of the citizens having endured years of struggle. It is a microcosm of Britain and is a very contained place. Also, when you get off the train and hear people speak, you start to smile. There is real warmth to the people. 

How did you settle on this topic of employment and no-contract work?
Writer Paul Laverty, producer Rebecca O’Brien and I discussed this issue of work and how the concept of work has changed from when I was young – and for many years after. Back then, you were told that if you had a skill and a craft, you would have a job for life and be able to bring up a family on that wage. There has been a change to the working conditions, and people now have such insecurity with no-contract employment and working through agencies. Then there are people like Ricky, the self-employed, which is a situation where the worker assumes all the risk and has to exploit himself. 

The film starts with a black screen – why?
The reason for the lack of picture at the beginning is that when he is talking about his work, we wanted to somehow suggest that it’s the kind of work that could apply to many people. Many people work in the building trade and manual labour, and the aim was to make it more general until we made it specific. I think in the end, there is no escape; he is in debt, and there is no way out. The system has trapped him.

The stress that Ricky is under leads to huge problems in his home life.
While writing and researching, Paul talked about how his job would filter back into his family relationships and affect them, and then he sketched out the main characters. After that, we talked again and developed them further. 

Can a powerful film like this fix this situation we find ourselves in?
I think we are one voice in a chorus. Since I, Daniel Blake, which was a film about the support that the state should be giving to people, the government has not given an inch, and it’s still just as cruel. The number of food banks has increased by 18% in the last year alone, and they will not change, because they can’t. They have to show that not being able to work and support yourself is a crime.

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