Loach last but not least in Cannes

Director vies for Festival’s top prize for third time

by Richard Mowe

Veteran Ken Loach mounts the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival last night for his most recent film The Oak Tree. Could he be in line for another Palme d’Or?
Veteran Ken Loach mounts the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival last night for his most recent film The Oak Tree. Could he be in line for another Palme d’Or? Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
When The Old Oak by Ken Loach was unveiled last night - the final film in this year’s 76th Cannes Film Festival Competition - it marked a potentially significant occasion for the director who has won the top award (the Palme d’Or) twice before for The Wind That Shakes The Barley and I, Daniel Blake.

Loach, 86, has hinted that this could be his last feature foray although his faithful screenwriter Paul Laverty has suggested that “it is not out of the question he could do something other than film”.

The Old Oak of the title is the only focal point left in a former mining village in the north-east of England where locals gather. When the bar owner TJ Ballantyne invites some Syrian families to also join them some of his regulars are not happy. In the Loach tradition, many of the main roles are taken by non-professional actors including TJ, who is played by a former firefighter Dave Turner. The subject of refugees and discrimination is as relevant as today’s headlines.

Screenwriter Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach at their Cannes photo call
Screenwriter Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach at their Cannes photo call Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Loach was unwilling to rule out a last exit completely. He was quote by one source as saying wryly: "Oh, I don't know, I live day by day. If you read the obituary columns and you're not in them, it's a good day. So we just keep going, really."

And after the standing ovation last night Loach gave a passionate speech: “Hope matters. If we have no hope we despair, and we’ve no confidence, we can do nothing. If we have hope, we can change. Let’s all have hope, we are good neighbours, another world IS possible”.

The reviews have started to appear following last night’s screening with Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian saying: “I hope this isn’t Loach’s final film, but if it is, he has concluded with a ringing statement of faith in compassion for the oppressed.” Screen Daily's Jonathan Romney wrote: “Overall, this is a powerful statement about tough times that have no clear end in sight …”

Whether Loach will make it a triple whammy only the next few hours will tell with jury president Ruben Östlund (himself a two time Palme winner) and his cohorts currently cloistered for discussions before tonight’s awards ceremony. There are new films from the likes of Jonathan Glazer, Todd Haynes, Justine Triet, Aki Kaurismaki, Wim Wenders and Hirokazu Kore-eda and others in the heady mix of 21 titles. Given the context it is not out of the question that Loach might be in line for an honorary Palme but that may depend on protocol.

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