WAR PRESENTS CASUALTIES on levels far wider than the conventional battle fields. There is the horror of a lack of closure, relentless vulnerability and ripples of hatred spewed in so many directions, conjoined as it often is, with ignorance. In The Old Oak, director Ken Loach takes on the behemoth of immigrant culture in the UK. It’s one of the last screenings on this year’s European Film Festival, and is not available online, but will still enjoy a screening in Umhlanga, Durban at Gateway on 22 October at 6pm and in Cape Town at The Labia Theatre on 22 October, at 7pm.
Set in Durham, North of England, a county at the foot of a world heritage cathedral, scarred deeply by mining history, the film focuses on a pub, The Old Oak. It’s a beacon of stability in a rapidly changing region, where old men are holding onto generations of pain inflicted, and the Powers That Be have brought Syrian refugees to take asylum in their midst. It’s a horrible concatenation of values where the racism is crude and the bullying cruel.
And it is here where we meet TJ (Dave Turner) and Yara (Ebla Mari). He’s the pub owner. A man beleaguered by his own vast sense of self-disappointment, charmed by a ‘daft’ little dog named Marra who finds him on the edge of an abyss. He’s dignified with majestic jowls and a heart that understands injustice, without bias. She’s a teenager, the eldest daughter of a Syrian family. Armed with a camera from her absent father, and a wide understanding of beauty, she elects to try and find hope by looking through its lens and capturing inconspicuous moments of wonder.
A curious friendship, blended with the sutures of empathy for loss and anger for disappointment in the vagaries of humanity, ensues. And, for a moment, the pub is allowed to become an isthmus between different types of beleaguered souls. Children and grandchildren of miners with not so much as a meal to come home to, children and grandchildren of Syrians who have seen their world smashed to bits by militant radicals and have escaped their homes with just the clothes on their backs.
It’s a sweet tale that aims for balance, but polarises the good and the bad folk with clarity. It doesn’t contain a strong and satisfying sense of closure, but embodies some astonishingly beautiful moments on the beach, in the cathedral, in the embrace of the complex rusticity of North of England dynamics with all its messy history.
- The Old Oak is directed by Ken Loach and features a cast headed by Joe Armstrong, Andy Dawson, Trevor Fox, Chris Gotts, Jordan Louis, Lola the dog, Ebla Mari, Chris McGlade, Arthur Oxley, Jen Patterson, Maxie Peters, Chrissie Robinson, Claire Rodgerson, Col Tait and Dave Turner. Written by Paul Laverty it is produced by Rebecca O’Brien and features creative input by George Fenton (music), Robbie Ryan (cinematography), Jonathan Morris (editing), Kahleen Crawford (casting), Fergus Clegg (production design) and Jo Slater (costumes). In English with English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, and will be screened on 22 October at Gateway in Umhlanga, Durban at 6pm, and at The Labia in Cape Town at 7pm.