Sunday, July 27, 2008

Its a free world...

This is the second film I’ve seen recently tackling the hot topics of immigration and exploitation, the other being Lorna’s Silence. It’s a Free World is a familiar story of economic migrants from Eastern Europe and beyond travelling to the UK looking for peace and prosperity, or just to raise a family in a safe environment. However when they arrive they find themselves at the bottom of the social ladder, living in cramped and often unhygienic accommodation devoid of work or dignity.

The scene was familiar to me – when I lived in Reading in 2003 we had an extended Polish family living next door to our Victorian Terrace. By 2006 the Pakistani run corner shop at the end of the road was selling a copy of the Reading Chronicle in Polish and you could buy your herrings in at least three different specialist Polish food shops along Reading’s infamous Oxford Road. Much of the talk was of hard working Polish and Czech Republic tradesmen with their willingness to work for (often less than) minimum wage undercutting local tradesmen. That’s free market economics people.

The migrant characters were lightly drawn and only one had even a little colour sketched in – almost enough for us to care for him as a person, but not quite. The acting was average and the cinematography uninspiring.

The story of a single mother struggling to earn a living and raise her young son, she works for a London workforce company on whose behalf she travels to Poland to recruit teachers, nurses and engineers to become window cleaners and labourers. When she gets laid off she takes it personally and convinces her flatmate to start an agency with her. They make a go of it, building up a clientele of factories and building sites that will hire casual staff by the hour or day. Their ethical code is ignored at every turn as they exploit work hungry migrants who have to arrive each morning in the yard of a local pub to find out if they have a job that day.

The most interesting element was watching the two women debating their morals - my favourite character, Angie's father, clearly represented the good conscience - a dapper retired east ender in his flat cap and Polo shirts, drawing a comparison with post-war workforce exploitation. As young British women they struggle to find rewarding and stable careers and so chip away at their own ethics and justify their uncaring attitude towards the migrants with an ‘every woman for herself’ attitude. A thought provoking social observation not unrelated to the themes within Lord of the Flies. This is not quite a descent into barbarism but shows the human instinct for self preservation has not been suppressed within modern civilisation.

I felt that the contemporary nature and honest treatment of the subject went a long way to justifying the Festival invitations and the awards but I’m not convinced that it stands up as a great piece of cinematography and has perhaps been picked up due to the reputation of director Ken Loach. It neither challenges our collective assumptions on this subject, nor presents any new insight.

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