Looking for Eric (2009) Directed by Ken Loach
I thought that Looking for Eric would be a football film with existential tendencies. It turned out to be a feel-good movie about a depressed man and how he finds his joie de vivre again. Eric Cantona plays himself; in the film he exists in the main character Eric's imagination giving him courage and advice at difficult times.
Cantona is everything that Eric is not: he is suave, handsome, French, famous, courageous, in tune with his emotions and he is a hero in England. Eric is a depressive postman. He has failed in two marriages, his step-sons are involved in dangerous criminal circles, he is still in love with his first wife whom he left with a baby some twenty years earlier.
Yet, life turns out to be good in this comforting film. I am grateful to the English movie making tradition which combines a realistic portrayl of the mundane everyday struggles (that come with the class system) and the belief that happiness is still around the corner. Mike Leigh is another director with this perspective.
Cantona. It's easy to suggest that the French genius made Manchester United remotely likeable during the mid 90's. Man U had never been that loveable since their 60's heyday. Eric Cantona was the reason. The arrogance, the skill and the poetry, Eric was a footballer we'd never encountered before. Yes, he did his talking on the pitch, but with upturned color and chest out this bear of a man did a lot for English football. For bad or worse the current popularity of the so called "best league in the world" was kick started by the Frenchman's time at United.
Loach's film cleverly uses the mythology surrounding Cantona to create a feel good picture which, in typical Loach manner, still focuses on the working class. Yes, this is funny at times, attempts some social comment at others, but don't let that sidetrack you. It's about Cantona and his power through football to elevate us. Who knows if Eric is a good actor, his main occupation since he hung up his boots? The thing here is that Looking For Eric comes alive when Cantona is on the screen. He's not on the screen enough here, which is a shame.
You don't need to understand football per se. to get a grip on Looking For Eric. But you do have to understand something about the thrill of the game, why it's the only sport that really matters. It's not an overstatement to suggest forget war, forget the arts, forget politics, forget everything. There is only Football. Loach's film understands this. If you don't understand this, then you know nothing.