Every March, for the past 15 years, the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, Illinois brings a wide variety of new films from around Europe during the European Union Film Festival. This year’s festival has films from 26 countries and 61 Midwestern premiers. Each week of the festival, I will bring a few select reviews from the schedule’s diverse selections.
The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, United Kingdom)
In the opening scenes of The Angels’ Share, we see a wonderfully edited sequence of a number of young people awaiting punishment in court. All we see are unfamiliar faces and a disembodied voice talking through the crimes they committed. Without knowing anything about the film, I thought maybe this would be some sort of docu-drama taking place in the Scottish petty crimes division. Instead, director Ken Loach includes this sequence as an introduction to the characters we’ll be spending the next 100 minutes with, as they fulfill their mandatory community service. It’s a calculated risk on Loach’s part to introduce nearly the entire cast as criminals and ask the audience to be on their side. Though most of these characters aren’t serious criminals, our main subject, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), has already spent time in jail and was again popped for a vicious assault. Loach is not only able to make the cast feel like genuinely well-rounded people, but also makes it easy to root for them, despite the illegal shenanigans they get caught up in.