There are few British directors more beloved than Ken Loach – at least among film fans who share his passion for exploring issues of class, politics, and social injustice. His latest film is called Jimmy’s Hall, and is set in 1932 Ireland. A kind of follow-up to his marvelous, award-winning The Wind That Shakes The Barley, this unfolds a decade after the Irish civil war that set brother against brother.
Based on true events, it chronicles the return of Jimmy Gralton, a prodigal son home after a lengthy exile in New York. It doesn’t take Jimmy long to decide to reopen an old hall and start up anew with a wide variety of arts classes – everything from painting and music to the poetry of W.B. Yeats. Jimmy is an ardent and effective social activist and his radical critiquing of the harsh status quo – as well as the hall’s Saturday night dances with people gyrating to exciting new jazz rhythms – soon makes him enemies with the local parish priest, the heartless landowners, and political leaders as far away as Dublin. What follows is a crowd-pleasing drama full of well-drawn characters, heartfelt moments, a touch of romance, and some nuance to shade the rather obvious moral of the story. Hall is a decent film from a great director.
Jimmy’s Hall ***1/2
Stars Barry Ward, Jim Norton
Directed by Ken Loach
The drama is more domestic in Infinitely Polar Bear, which stars the great Mark Ruffalo as Cameron, the loving but deeply troubled father and husband of a mixed-race family in 1978 Boston. In the film’s opening minutes we see Cameron arc from being exuberantly playful to downright scary during a particularly bad bi-polar episode. As post-breakdown Cameron progresses from a psychiatric hospital to a halfway house, his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), struggles to support the family on meager wages. With Cameron on the mend, ambitious Maggie gets a scholarship to a prestigious business school in New York City. Which means Cameron has to suddenly transition from bohemian goof-off to single parent responsible for laundry, dishwashing and feeding kids.
Even with Maggie home for weekends, Cameron is in over his head – not least because his mental illness makes him socially clumsy and emotionally erratic. Add in the usual tensions of family life, and this is one fraught household. Hollywood is typically sentimental in its portraits of mental illness (Benny & Joon, anyone?) and writer-director Maya Forbes – inspired by experiences with her own father for this story – is refreshingly unsparing in her portrayal of how mental illness is a torment to sufferer and family alike. That said, Bear is also sweet and funny, and benefits in particular from a sensitive and powerful performance by Ruffalo.
infinitely polar bear ΗΗΗ1/2
Stars Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana
Directed by Maya Forbes
Jimmy’s Hall runs Sept. 4-5, and Infinitely Polar Bear runs Sept. 6-7. Both shows are at UVic’s Cinecenta.
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