Kes (Ken Loach, 1969)

A young, English working-class boy spends his free time caring for and training his pet falcon.

Billy (David Bradley) is a fifteen years old boy abused by his half brother and ignored by his mother. He has no expectations of life, doesn’t like school and no real friends until he develops an interest in falconry. The story has been told many times in Cinema, just look at François Truffaut’s 400 Blows or Claude Jutra’s Mon oncle Antoine.

What makes Ken Loach’s film standout is the British angle of the film with the reality of England. He is a child facing abandon, a difficult life, and he has a sentiment of being alone. Until he finds a passion and become interested in something that makes sense in his life. Something that makes him interesting for his English teacher and makes him feel worth something.

Loach documentary style of filmmaking involves the viewer in this child’s life. Filmed with a eye for observation but also an introspect vision of the daily life of the young Billy. The dark tones of the film, the greys, the browns, and the natural lighting give a visual that is not that appealing but the sequences with the falcon are lighted with natural sunshine juxtaposed with a joyous tune of flute that reveals a subtle sensibility in this quite sad film.

A recurrent comment of Kes is the Yorkshire accent of the actors. Sometimes, it was presented with subtitles to help American viewers understand. As it is for me, my mother language is French and English is my second language and I didn’t had much problem understanding the accent. At first, it took me a minute or two to adjust my ear but I didn’t missed much. So I suggest that you don’t let this little detail retain you from watching this English classic. Especially, if you liked and enjoyed Cannes’ Palme d’or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley also from director Ken Loach. The later is a succinct and efficient sociologist that can dress a clear portrait of realities of his mainland.

With the latest years, Kes has become more and more recognized with a Criterion Collection treatment and a very obvious homage in The Royal Tenenbaums. As it climbs rankings in many lists, Kes is a great film but not a masterpiece even if it let a clear staple. A nice gem.

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