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Cannes 2012: Ken Loach on 'The Angels' Share' (Q&A)

Ken Loach

The Cannes regular talks about lightening up in his latest Competition entry and why, after 10 appearances in Cannes, he still gets nervous.

For some it wouldn’t be Cannes without Ken Loach. The British auteur has won prizes in Cannes dating back to 1979’s Black Jack, and took home the Palme d’Or for 2006’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley. In all Loach has negotiated the Croisette’s famous red carpet a staggering 10 times.

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His latest movie, The Angels’ Share, teams him with writer and regular collaborator Paul Laverty for an unusually lighthearted romp about some down-on-their-luck ex-cons trying to go straight.

Loach talked with THR about getting nervous about his films’ receptions at what he calls “the most important event on the film calendar,” misconceptions about the label “auteur filmmaker” and the link between comedy and tragedy.

The Hollywood Reporter: The film is written by Paul Laverty with whom you have previously collaborated. How is your relationship evolving?

Ken Loach: It’s a very close partnership and you have to see the world in the same way and share the same sense of humor. We share a curiosity and interest about developing what we are trying to do with our projects. I think Paul’s writing gets more and more complex and richer with each film he does and his desire to confound expectations is strong. You see a stereotype and know that the reverse will also be true. Finding the contradictions on the page is something we share and want to do.

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THR: Where does Angels sit in tone compared with the other films you’ve made with Laverty?

Loach: Route Irish, the last film I did with Paul, is a very harsh film with a tough ending for audiences, and I think we felt we wanted to do something with a bit of a smile for people at the end of it. Of course the world doesn’t change, and it’s a bleak place for the people we are describing and portraying, but they themselves deal with it with humor and compassion and show a resolution to get through the hard times.

THR: Tragedy in comedy and comedy in tragedy then?

Loach: Yes, I think so. It is true to say you could absolutely tell the same story, without wanting to give too much away, as a tragedy but we wanted to make sure the film carried the people’s ability to be sharp, witty and aware with humor.

THR: Would it be fair to describe Angels’ Share as more in line with some of the more lighthearted movies you’ve made, such as Riff Raff, Raining Stones and Looking for Eric?

Loach: Those films did have similar characters in that they all come from the same working class background and the central characters are all trying to find a way to change the issues.

THR: Your films always do carry a strong sense of the working class. Is that a major source of inspiration?

Loach: I think it is central to my filmmaking philosophy. Generally speaking [the working classes] are presented in a 2D, stereotypical way so they can be glossed over in films. So it is always my intention to describe and celebrate them in a different way. Our aim is to put them central stage and explore their contradictions, hopes, humor and lives without patronizing anyone. The overriding point to it all for me is at that any change [to society] will come from the working classes and noone else because everyone else is striving to look after the status quo and protect themselves.

THR: Do you continue your tradition of bringing little known actors to attention with this film?

Loach: I hope so. One of the main characters is played by Paul Brannigan, who had never done this sort of work before. He’s bright, feisty and a sharp lad and he ends up making his character sympathetic even though his character doesn’t start out that way. I think you find amongst ordinary people there are a lot of people that are really talented. It’s more interesting to see new people on the screen when you go to the cinema. I don’t want to see the same old faces.

THR: Is it still important for you to maintain editorial control over your work?

Loach: Oh yes. You can’t work properly otherwise. You can’t have responsibility for the film if you can’t take and make the key decisions. I share final cut decisions with [producer] Rebecca O’Brien, Paul and [long time collaborator] editor Jonathan Morris. It’s a collaborative effort for me on the authoring of the film.

THR: Your methods are very collaborative then?

Loach: It’s all about collaboration, the whole thing. It’s the opposite to the way most people think when they hear the label auteur. I think people think of auteurs as being a dictator shouting over everyone about his vision. That’s not the way I think of auteurs or the way I work.

THR: The Cannes Film Festival enjoys your company. Do you like it as much as they like you?

Loach: I still get nervous. I always think the audiences will be quite vigorous with you and your film and not do you any favors when considering the reaction.