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CANNES FESTIVAL – “SORRY WE MISSED YOU,” tense and moving family drama premised on the idea of choice

“Sorry we missed you” by Ken Loach is laden with social significance. It stands as direct indictment of how businesses have reorganized labor contracts, passing risk and exposure unto their workforce. In France, the U.K., Belgium and elsewhere job precarity has increased due to various factors, but also due to the fact that employers, such as the parcel delivery service pictured in the film, no longer offer long-term contracts but rather, short term agreements, which are rechristened franchises. Add to this the economic crisis of 2008 and some families are pushed to the brink.

“Sorry” is also filled with the benevolence, the generosity of heart that Loach’s characters, working-class men and women, can, even in times of great struggle, maintain and spread around. But “Sorry,” like other films before it, remains yea shy of cloying sentiment, thankfully.

This unassuming humanity is pleasurable to watch. There’s no excessive violence in this film, which premiered here in Cannes last night, or outsize egos, or desire for revenge, or wallowing in clichés, or post-murder sex in an open-field or genre-filmmaking, it’s about working-class people, Mister and Mrs. Joe the Plumber. They have hard lives, and these lives often get harder in the course of the one hundred minutes or so that a Ken Loach film, on average, lasts.

Ricky Turner and his wife Abbie were about to purchase a home when the crisis of 2008 wiped away the mortgage company that had approved their loan. He has muscular arms and not much in the brain–he says so himself. He takes up a job as delivery man, but, and this distinction is crucial to the film, as a franchisee. No job contract available. So it’s choice-based. You can choose to buy your own van, or rent one from the company (it’s more expensive, but you’re less exposed to risk). You can choose to take a day off, no approval needed, but you must find someone to cover your route. The idea of choice being central to “Sorry we missed you.” It’s also the choices that his son, Seb, makes, often with catastrophic results (getting in fights at school, stealing from a supermarket). It’s the choices that Ricky, himself, will make as he contends with the demands of a job while faced with a family that’s falling apart. The film’s many qualities are complemented by the exceptional performance of Debbie Honeywood (she has just one other credit as actress in a TV series) as Abbie, Ricky’s wife and a nurse who does home visits.

How many more of Ricky and Abbie are out there, advancing through life with every limitation being thrown at them? Are they even visible to us? Whatever their number, let’s hope that Ken Loach, who is 83 this year, continues to make films of such social significance.

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