Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Political Tragedy. The Navigators by Ken Loach

One of the joys of the summer time in Bologna, and many would say there are few as the city becomes extremely hot and humid between the months of June and September, is the profusion of open air cinemas that spring up, between some of the cities parks, and the big screen in the impressive Piazza Maggiore. For the month of July Bolognese are treated to free screenings of films most nights, organised under the enthusiastic and expert guidance of the Cinateca di Bologna, who, amongst other things, run the important Chaplin project, restoring the films of Charles Chaplin.

And so, one balmy evening in July, we're treated to Ken Loach's film The Navigators. It's an interesting proposition, not least because of the location. Bologna is famously, and not uncontroversially, left wing. It's newly elected mayor, Sergio Cofferati, is an ex trade union leader, and has strongly opposed many of the attempts at labour law reform in Italy under Silvio Berlusconi's government. Bologna was also home to Marco Biagi, the Economics professor who was shockingly assassinated by the 'New Red Brigades', allegedly for his participation in drawing up proposals to reform the labour market regulations in Italy.

There's an ongoing battle in Italy between the Unions and Government over both labour law and pension reform. Silvio Berlusconi has seldom hidden his admiration for Margaret Thatcher and her privatisation crusade, indeed the 'iron lady' weighed in heavily behind him in the run up to the Italian Election of 2001 (Not necessarily a helpful thing one would imagine, but for many bureaucracy burdened Italians there's a surprising respect for the greengrocer's daughter). This is all a long way round of saying that in many ways the evening's presentation of The Navigators, a film about the repercussions of privatisation, is, on the one hand, educative, and on the other, preaching to the converted.

The Navigators was filmed in 2001, based on an idea proposed and written by Rob Dawber, who had been a railway man for over seventeen years, and had seen the changes ushered in by privatisation in the 1980's. Sadly he died shortly before the film premiered.

It opens up, on a typically grim, grey, Yorkshire day, which makes the short sleeved Italians near me shiver involuntarily. A group of railwaymen are arriving for work as the name of their employer is physically being changed on the building. The group of workers pack in to their canteen to be briefed by a bumbling manager about their new management, and new conditions. The room is a packed one, and through the course of the film it inevitably empties, until it's last occupant is a hard line union man playing chess with himself out of principle. The rest have all been shed by the company, voluntarily moving to the private sector, where contracts are better paid but short term and without any benefits. The ideal flexible labour force.

This, though, does the film, and the film making of Loach in general, a great disservice. He is a political film maker, of that there can be no doubt, but does that mean his films are simply political? Certainly, if we're to take him at his word, he would hope not: “It doesn't help to talk about being a political film maker, because then people come into the cinema thinking they're going to see a particular type of film, whereas you want people to come into the cinema hoping to have a good experience with a film, whether it's happy or sad, dramatic or a comedy, or whatever, you just want them to come and enjoy the film”.

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