Looking for Eric but Finding Yourself.
Let me get this straight. I am not a Manchester United fan. Far from it- I’d go so far as to say I hate Manchester United. While I respect their history, I hate what they and most other top- flight clubs have become. I am a football fan. I respect good players and Cantona was certainly one of those; I respect good teams, good managers. I love a good game and the ranges of emotions you get after one; these are difficult to replicate and are the ones that stay with you for ever. Player names, goal times and seemingly pointless statistics stick in my mind more than my family and friends birthdays. That’s just the way it is. As the character Spleen in Looking for Eric says, “You can change your wife or your job, but you can’t change your team.”
“Flawed Genius, ay…? Flawed Postman…”
Sometimes you go to the cinema with expectation of seeing an enjoyable film. Rarely do you walk away feeling that your expectations have not only been matched, but greatly exceeded. In Looking for Eric, I found one of those films. Duo Ken Loach and Paul Laverty have again teamed up to provide a feel-good film with the depth and richness they have come to be known for and hopefully will continue to provide us with in the future.
The film gives us an insight into the mundane existence of Eric Bishop (played pitch perfect by Steve Evets,) an aging postman bringing up two stepsons, Jess and Ryan, from his second failed relationship in a dingy terraced house somewhere in Manchester, overflowing with fenced goods. United memorabilia adorn the walls, with a life size poster of Cantona pride of place on Eric’s wall. His only solace comes from watching the footie down the pub with his postie mates Spleen and Meatballs, and a rag tag bunch of real characters who you can tell really care for him. Troubled as he is, Eric is a real tragi-comic hero who you can’t help but admiring and feeling sorry for in equal measure throughout. His difficult existence eventually drives him toward breakdown and thoughts of suicide and this is when Cantona appears.
In Cantona, we are gifted the Deus Ex Machina- It is at his prompting that Eric stands up to his stepson’s indolence. It is Cantona who convinces Eric step up to the plate and reignite his relationship with Lilly, the woman he still loves. And it is Cantona’s inspiration that drives him to stand up to the thuggish gang- leader Zach whose stranglehold over Ryan threatens to upset the happy new relationship Eric has developed with his family under his new regime. The appearances and advice of Cantona, though, often come in a truly surreal way- the smooth talking Frenchman and the scrawny, Mancunian bantering French proverbs back and forth while smoking grass and drinking wine in Eric’s bedroom and throw up some proper laugh out loud moments (“How do you translate stick your fucking proverbs up your fucking arse?!”)
“Sometimes we forget you’re just a man…” “…I am not a man. I am Cantona.”
In the same way he could turn a game on its head with a piece of prodigious skill, Cantona’s appearances in the film do likewise. His finer moments in football are well documented in the film; fan or not, the discussion on the balcony of the high rise about his favorite moment really does stir the heartstrings- Was it that last gasp winner he scored against Liverpool? (I remember this one well and it broke my heart at the time.) No. The cracking half- volley from all of thirty yards at Sunderland? No. Cantona’s favorite moment as a player- A perfect pass he played to Denis Irwin; a dinked ball over the top of the Spurs defence with the outside of his right boot. Kanchelskis (?) jumped for the ball and missed. Irwin ran onto the ball and smashed one in from twelve yards. Beautiful.
Eric explains the emotion behind moments like this and I guess football in general- “Where else can you sing with your mates or scream and let go for a couple of hours every week without getting arrested.” “Or cry,” Cantona adds. There aren’t many players, past or present who understand the unique bond between them and the fans. Cantona though, was certainly one of them. In the above scene, he tells Eric he went out on the pitch every match with the intention of giving the fans “a gift to take home,” and says the fear of no longer hearing fans chant his name is what drove him on. His name still rings around Old Trafford and rightly so. In ten years time, will the Reds faithful still sing the name of their last number seven- the recently departed Ronaldo? I somehow doubt it.
“He, who is afraid to throw the dice, will never throw a six.”
The truth is Looking for Eric succeeds in being guffaw and/or tear inducing in equal parts. Whatever it is about the partnership of Loach and Laverty, they give us group scenes and arguments as natural as if you were to hear them down the local on a Friday night. If the actors weren’t ad- libbing in some of these scenes, I’ll eat my underused and suspiciously clean football boots. Such scenes are always prevalent in Loach films: In Land and Freedom, we have the argument over the collectivisation of land. In The Wind That Shakes the Barley, we have the argument over the signing of the Treaty. In Looking for Eric, we have the argument in the pub between the Manchester United fans and the FC United fans; six Posties attacking the corporatisation of modern football down the pub – raw, impassioned, real and not without a large dose of chuckles too.
The crux of the film has Eric dealing with his problems the only way he can – getting his mates on board. If the sight of three coach loads of FC United fans (And the two Erics) masked up as Cantona taking on the arrogant Zach with pool cues, hammers and water pistols filled with red paint doesn’t make you smile/ well up/ at least show some bloody emotion, I don’t know what will. Some people have said this breaks the realism Ken Loach is normally attached to but I don’t think so. Sometimes you have to believe that special things can happen. And if there’s anyone who can inspire something like this, it’s that man Cantona.
“Contro il Calcio Moderno.”
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