Two Britons talk to Kathimerini

At the Cannes Film Festival last May, Kathimerini met up with Ken Loach and Paul Laverty to discuss «Sweet Sixteen.» Among discussions on films and politics, they also spoke about how they came to choose young Martin Compston to play the lead role of Liam. «The challenge was to find somebody who would really bring the film to life. We saw several hundred lads in schools, soccer teams, boxing clubs, just where people gathered. There were quite a lot who were really talented but Martin had something really special about him. He’s very straight. There’s a kind of optimism about him… his mischief, a sense of fun. One of the most important things though, is that Liam does not see himself as a loser. Others might, but he’s an optimist. He’s determined to win… Martin has this quality.» In the film, we observe an atmosphere of melancholy, of disillusionment. Is this a trend in British society? Loach: Generalizations are always difficult really. I don’t think melancholy is really the word. Desperation, anxiety, energy, humor, lots of things all muddled up. Melancholy implies a kind of detachment, a limpness. I think there are a lot of fighters around. Laverty: I wouldn’t describe Liam as melancholy at all. I would say that he is very passionate about life and passionate about his own possibilities. But objective circumstances do cut down his choices. Loach: There are also different kinds of disillusion. The film is about the breaking of Liam’s illusion when his mother rejects him for her boyfriend. That’s part of Liam’s tragedy… Young people as a whole are alienated and have a lot of suppressed anger. I think there’s a sense of feeling cheated. How do you feel about the shift toward the extreme right we are experiencing all over Europe? Loach: I suppose it’s two things: It seems to have come about through the collapse of the whole social democrat project that somehow governments could be elected from the left or center-left and that they could still on one hand keep big business happy, and on the other, provide a good living for working people. The whole economic system has reached such a point that the agenda of big business demands all the things that make working people poor. It demands casualization, demands privatization, demands the ability to move its investment from one country to another. So, politicians like Blair and Jospin and the others who have come up through the social democrat movement find themselves now absolutely committed to the agenda of big business. You then have all the mainstream parties for business. And yet, there are swathes of people in despair, unhappiness, poverty, insecurity. Then comes a political movement that says, «The reason you’re poor is because your neighbor is black, your neighbor is an immigrant, he’s taking your hospital bed, your child’s place at school.» It’s easy, you don’t think, you say «OK» and support the party of the hard right. The responsibility is with the social democrat and center politicians who allow this situation to happen. But, alongside the rise of the hard right, there are signs that there is a resurgence of the real left. It’s only a first sign but there is something on which we can build there.

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