Friday, November 12, 2010

Sports Film Review: Looking for Eric (2009)

Dir.: Ken Loach. Feat.: Steve Evets & Eric Cantona. 116 min.

“You can leave your wife; you can change your wife. You can change your politics. You can change your religion. But, never, never can you change your favorite football team!” (ManU fan)

Driving the wrong way into a turnabout, Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) speeds headlong into the crash that metaphorically represents his entire existence. A struggling everyman postal worker based in Manchester, Eric and his reeling life are basically summed up in his mate’s quote above: he left one wife and lost another; politics and religion are beyond the scope of his menial sort, nor has he room for them, for football—quite specifically Manchester United football—is the only creed to which he and his drinking partners adhere. Only Rooney and Scholes, a few pints with the lads, and memories of Eric “the King” Cantona can momentarily ease the sting of daily reality for this Red Devils fanatic. However, when his two live-in stepsons turn to delinquency, even organized crime, and he confronts memories of the wife and daughter he abandoned years ago, will football be enough?

In this midst of this painful, gritty social drama (that sometimes bears resonances with the work of the Dardenne brothers), an official Cannes selection, director Ken Loach offers a fantastic element of almost magical realism when Eric Cantona (played by himself) enters the scene as a sort of apparition/philosopher to help the other Eric make sense of his life and begin to shore up the shards of a shattered domestic past, make amends and, ultimately, foster a caring relationship between himself and his stepsons.

Worth the price of the DVD alone, digitally remastered highlights from Cantona’s stellar career with ManU are interspersed throughout the film with a crispness of image and focus heretofore unseen. What’s more, the enigmatic Cantona, whose “philosophy” is the stuff of football legend, becomes a “flawed genius” guru to the deeply-ashamed, even suicidal Eric with memorable lines such as “He that forecasts all perils will never sail the seas,” “He that is afraid to shake the dice will never throw a six” and “If you do not enter the lion’s den, you cannot get his cubs.” To this exchange, Eric the postman retorts in angrily telling Cantona where to shove his proverbs and philosophy, admitting that he’s “barely getting over the […] seagulls!” (In a nod to the viewer, the famous 1995 post-“Kung Fu King” hooligan kick press conference, with the unforgettable seagull quote, is included on the disk!) Still, as barriers break down and the men smoke pot, drink wine, and train together outdoors, Cantona explains his sweetest moment on the pitch being not a goal but rather a pass, and Eric discovers the importance of always trusting one’s teammates.

Even beyond reliving Cantona’s highlights, video footage plays a key role throughout the film, especially as Eric is humiliated by his stepson’s abusive gangster “friend” on YouTube. In the interest of avoiding all spoilers, let it be said that video plays a vital part in the entirely unexpected but delightfully “hooliganistic” conclusion to Eric’s legal/family problems. Eventually learning to trust his mates, Eric eventually says “Non!”, flips his collar to the world and stands up for himself.

Beyond the central plot of a man overcoming crisis and regaining control in his life, this remains a film about football. Eric’s hooligan pals, English football references, Cantona’s career, the hated Glazer family, corporate sponsorship, gentrification of the EPL, working class clubs, etc.—even the question of the French King Cantona in England—are all undercurrents in this rich sports film. In one particular scene, a small group of ManU dissenters who now claims to support a minor club in Manchester, FC United, express their discontent for the EPL brass in saying: “We may be small but there’s no fat […] chairman who can sell us out for 30 pieces of silver.” So, if you seek a sports film that simultaneously celebrates football and the resilience of the human spirit—and can overlook the heavy-handed scenes of domestic turmoil, frequent drug use and the over 200 appearances of the F-word(!)—or if your life is simply lacking the philosophy of a "flawed genius" guru, perhaps you, too, should consider Looking for Eric.

1 comment:

Corry Cropper said...

"I am not a man, I am Cantona." Awesome line.

And a great review. Now... can you loan me the film. Please?

Re. the F word, the film is British... so it doesn't count.