Looks and Smiles
Newly released on DVD, Ken Loach's 1981 slice of docudrama life "Looks and Smiles" is a clear-eyed yet lacksidaisical effort to observe the wasting away of the young and unemployed. Following two teenagers, Mick (Graham Greene) and Allen (Tony Pitts), times are not good. While both are on the 'dole', they spend their days drinking and dancing in discos, stealing motorcycles for the occassional joyride, and scowering the newspapers for dead end jobs that never come to fruition. That is until Allen up and joins the army and Mick begins dating a local shopgirl named Karen (Carolyen Nicholson). A majority of the film follows this relationship between Mick and Karen, documenting the various ups and downs of young love stuck amidst poverty, feuding parents and endless hours. While all three amateur leads handle their acting roles with sensitivity and believability, Loach does something else entirely. As he's done for a career now, he says much more about responsibility and life in a specific time and place through casual observances and as little flash as necessary. There are no grand statements here. No one charges the institution or goes on strike. At times, its hard to even understand Mick and Allen through their strong Sheffield accents, muttering conversations and making sense of their simple life, but the rage of poverty and alienation during early 80's England is highly resonant throughout. And just when you feel like something dramatic is going to happen as Mick and Karen go off to find/live with her estranged father after a particulary nasty fight with her mom, Loach keeps the emotion true and the outcome simple. This is very close to the best film Loach has produced. And enough can't be said about longtime cinematographer Chris Menges' shimmering black and white photography.
"Aria"? "Paris, je t'aime"? "Boccacio 70"? "Eros"? If none of these films ring a bell, then you're probably not a fan of the European-financed genre of films esoterically known as the anthology film- one in which a group of filmmakers combine segments to create a (mostly uneven) whole. Call it the auteur project in the finest sense of the word. For "Tickets", the directors on display include Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami, and Ken Loach. While each film exudes the overall sensibilites of each director (Olmi's being the least involving and empty), I bring up this triptych because the final section of the film, helmed by Ken Loach, is a magical 40 minutes of film that could've succeeded as a completely enriching feature length effort on its own. While each segment takes place on a train traveling to Rome (yes, another European touch), Loach introduces us to three young football fans traveling to the Championship game in Italy. When they meet and be-friend a young boy on the train who says he's from Albania, one of the boys names Jamesy (Martin Compston) shows him his wallet and football ticket. When the train inspector calls for tickets later, Jamesy can't find his ticket, and his throttled up partners have him believing the young boy probably stole his ticket. It goes to say, that in Loach's hands, this section of "Tickets" turns into a tense altercation between class and culture. While there's merit in each section, Loach's blue collar imprint can be felt on every inch of his section (and while there's very little fanfare when the sections transition between filmmakers except a hard cut, you know Loach takes command when the first words you hear are "you fucking cunt, hold up"). I'd recommend renting "Tickets" if only for Kiarostami's quietly poised section and Loach's frenetic, charged finale.