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Looking for Eric

October 6, 2013

Looking for Eric (2009)
Director: Ken Loach
Actors: Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop

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Synopsis: Dishevelled, middle-aged Mancunian postman Eric (Steve Evets) receives unlikely inspiration for turning his life around in the guise of Man Utd legend, Eric Cantona.

Review: Admittedly this isn’t one of Ken Loach’s grander, more robust and overly politicised works. In fact, you could argue some elements of his narrative construct are a touch clumsy and mawkish. But the sheer warmth and humanity that emits off this Mancunian fable make it yet another low-key gem in his prodigious body of work.

Once again, Loach finds validation in his naturalistic predilections: the handheld cinematography from Barry Akroyd is exemplary, and his decision to cast provincial actors and to really envelop his narrative world in the accents, cadences and sensibilities of his Manchester milieu lends great atmosphere to his story of a run-down, middle-aged postman trying to regain some dignity in his life.

Obviously, the key inspiration-cum-gimmick of the film is Eric Cantona’s literal visitations to main character Eric Bishop. And although it’s a very comic and touching conceit, exacting great mileage out of the sheer unlikely juxtaposition between this Gallic, ‘exotic’ superstar and scruffy, irritable Manchester little man, there doesn’t seem to have been much dramaturgical scrutiny applied beyond the slight conceit that Cantona provides Eric with some general philosophical succour. For it to work more convincingly, Eric needed to be more obviously depressed and suicidal, when, in reality, he seems merely muddled, disorganised and frustrated, and in need of more motivation and structure in his life.

The film’s ‘third act’ conflict doesn’t really work, and the scene of Eric’s Mancunian mates winning the battle of wills with the local gangster – though funny and imprinting the sense of a communal, collective spirit – doesn’t seem a remotely believable climax to properly resolve the extremely serious intimidation and violent threat that this gangster holds over Eric’s family.

Still, even a Ken Loach work in minor key is a major step-up from what passes through our cinemas nowadays, and, in some respects, the film’s whimsical spirit invites the audience to enter into a fablistic mindset and to relax into its uplifting air of camaraderie. (October 2013)

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