Tuesday, November 04, 2008

It's A Free World (2007)

It's A Free World... (Ken Loach, 2007)

In Ken Loach's It's A Free World..., there are two generations of the working class that are separated not only by age but by their immense moral gap. Geoff (Colin Caughlin) is retired and spends his day taking care of his grandson. He lives comfortably with his wife, despite his acknowledgment of his limited financial capabilities, and goes about life with his head up high although his belt is tightened. He is representative of most of Loach's protagonists, those who maintain an adamantly dignified stance against the afflictions that plague the working class. Angie (surprisingly terrific newcomer Kierston Wareing), Geoff's daughter (and if we are to follow Geoff's logic, a severe disappointment) is in her early thirties, a single mother and has been switching jobs year after year and unable to find decent employment opportunities in a modern world of increasing wealth and diminishing integrities.

After being fired (presumably for violently reacting against the sexual advances of a male superior) from an employment agency that recruits immigrants for manual work in England, Angie returns to London and convinces Rose (Juliet Ellis), her flatmate, to start-up their own manpower agency in the backlot of a local pub. Angie's operations reflect her roots. Riding her motorcycle around town, recruiting overstaying aliens and convincing businessmen to provide work for her recruits, Angie's irresistable demeanor, consisting of a mix of unique confidence brewed from both desperation and years of economic and social struggle, would carry her entrepreneurial experiment to modest successes. She establishes rules at work (for example, she would not provide aliens without any papers employment), and in the process, protects whatever dignity and integrity from the probable repercussions of her chosen endeavor.

However, the capitalist world is not nearly as predictable as Angie thinks it is. Businesses fail. Employers become bankrupt and unable to pay wages. Commissions are unearned. Mobs of dissatisfied immigrants become unruly and her and her family's safety is compromised. Her rules are bent, first to favor an Iranian refugee who is desperate to find any job to feed his family, and later on, to finally complete her transformation from exploited to exploiter. No matter how Angie insists that there are borders to her profession, it is this uncomfortable meshing of her two roles (as a member of the exploited middle class and as the superior and empowered recruiter) in the bigger scheme of international economics and politics that forces her to choose which side she really belongs to: the abused, or the abuser.

To make matters worse, Angie's privilege is not her innate industry or other talents and skills, but the simple fact that the world also has arbitrary economic classes among nations, where Britain is hardly the working class as compared to its Eastern European neighbors whose citizens spend decades worth of their savings to gain entry to London, forced to be employed with meager wages and hardly any benefits, where promises of decent living and income is mutated into paranoia and nightmares of either being cramped into decrepit buses, factories, and inhumane working places or being chased out of the country by the immigrations police.

Loach's concern is hardly these impoverished illegal immigrants. Their stories have been told and retold by countless other filmmakers, almost always with the emotional efficiency of daytime soap. Loach pits his beloved middle class in the center of this contemporary world, where nations are interconnected by trade treaties, loosened borders, and easy communication. Although afflicted with the same working class problems (poverty, lack of professional recourse, and a youth that is being pushed to delinquency by lack of proper parenting), Angie's generation is provided with a pressing choice: of living the same lives as those who preceded them, or exploiting the more desperate and desolate members of the enlarged and supposedly freed world.

No comments: