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Films: Looking for Eric (15)

Sarah Tierney says 'oui' to Loach and Cantona's film about the power of saying 'NON!'

Published on June 14th 2009.

Films: Looking for Eric (15)

WHEN we first meet Manchester postman Eric Bishop, he's repeatedly driving the wrong way round a roundabout. He can't get over his ex-wife, Lily, he can't control his dope-smoking stepsons, and his sorting office colleagues are worried that he's gone completely postal. Ken Loach's new film starts as a straightforward portrayal of a mid-life breakdown, then introduces a wonderfully whimsical element: Eric Cantona, playing himself.

Cantona appears after Eric (who is assuredly played by Steve Evet) has been sampling some of his stepson's wacky baccy; he's a hallucination who pops up every now and then to offer snippets of his Gallic wisdom. Cantona is Eric's hero because he's talented, handsome, and says clever-sounding things in a French accent. He also doesn't take any nonsense from people – something that postie Eric does a lot.

Under Cantona's guidance, Eric faces up to his mistakes, sorts his life out and learns to say 'NON!” in a very commanding way. This is Ken Loach doing 'feel good' and he does it well. Writer Paul Laverty's dialogue is very funny – particularly in the scenes involving the blokes from the sorting office. Justin Moorhouse plays one of these, as does John Henshaw, the plain-speaking guy from the Post Office adverts who seems to have transplanted that same character into this film.

The scene when they all gather at Eric's house to try some self-help exercises is a cracker. “I'm trying to contact the unconscious mind, not the fucking brain-dead,” says Henshaw's character. The idea of a group of no-nonsense postmen trying to master the art of positive visualisation for the sake of their friend's sanity is funny and heart-warming. The friendships between the men and Loach's sidewise approach to the tricky subject of mental illness is one of two excellent things about this film.

The other is Cantona himself. Loach shamelessly plays on everything that people love about this man, with footage of his incredible goals, plenty of esoteric philosophising, and a script that flaunts his enigmatic personality. But the best thing is that Loach isn't too deferential to send him up, and Cantona isn't too grand to go along with it.

“Stick your proverbs up your f***ing arse. How do you say that in French?” postie Eric asks at one point. The

closing credits end with a clip of Cantona's seagulls-trawler-sardines metaphor at his post kung-fu kick press conference. This is a man who doesn't mind being laughed at. He's Cantona – he can take it.

But although Looking for Eric is being touted as a Cantona film, he's far from central to the storyline. There's a section in the middle where postman Eric's breakdown is superseded by a sub plot involving a gun that his stepson is storing for a local hardman. Cantona disappears from the story at this point, and the entertaining exploration of how men deal with a mental breakdown is forgotten in favour of a tired diversion into the world of Manchester gangsters.

Crime writer Raymond Chandler once said, 'When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand' – and it looks like Loach followed his advice, except that here the gun is hidden under the floorboards. It's where the film temporarily looses its footing – in terms of its humour and originality. It might be Loach-Lite, but he still had to get in some scenes designed to shock and disturb, and they don't gel well with the rest of the story.

It makes a strong comeback though with a daft but gleeful conclusion involving lots of men in Cantona masks. More bonus points can be awarded for the Manchester setting. Football fans will enjoy the footage of vintage Cantona and the debates about the merits of supporting FC United rather than Man U. And just about everyone, everywhere will enjoy the comical interplay between a down-on-his-heels postman and a footballing hero.

“Flawed genius,” postie Eric says of Cantona at one point. You wouldn't quite say the same of this film, but it's not far off.


Looking for Eric (15) is in cinemas from 12 June.

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tears4suevenirsJune 3rd 2009.

fabulous stuff! This is perhaps one of the best Indie films of the last 20 years. Think Letter to Brezhnev, English patient and Love Story. It is funny, heartwarming, and deeply philosophical.This movie will outrank Casablanca as the favourite low budget movie of all time.Heartbreakingly beautiful , a sure fire Oscar winner (I hope).

CannCannCantona!June 3rd 2009.

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