IFFI 2019 Day 2: Sorry We Missed You - The system sinks its fangs into a loving family
The columnist writes about his experiences of Day 2 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India 2019 in Goa
There are films that affect you, and then, there are films like Ken 'Loach’s Sorry We Missed You (on day 2 of IFFI, Goa) which leave you quaking in fright at the fate of its characters. It’s a haunting film about the coldness of our times, about the price the system puts on those in pursuit of growth. It’s a film I will be thinking about for a long, long time. This film, about the Turner family — Ricky, Abbie, and their two children — charts their struggle to stay afloat with dignity at a time when the system is robbing people of any leftover warmth.
It’s incredible how much social commentary the film packs in without ever making a big fuss. Is emotional detachment a prerequisite to survive at a time of labour exploitation? Does humanity come in the way of productivity? Who determines this productivity, anyway? Simply put, where’s the dignity in labour, specifically that of Ricky and Abbie? As Seb Turner, their son asks, “Good jobs? What good jobs?” The villain here is not personified. It’s the amorphous system, the invisible but ever-imposing entity that sucks lives in return for money. There may be a bit of temptation to make a villain out of Ricky’s boss, Maloney, but he isn’t one. He’s simply a convert, a cold worker who’s willing to trade his soul for success. Ricky and Abbie (some terrific acting by Kris Hitchen and Debbie Honeywood) don’t find it as easy to do this though.
Ken Loch takes his time introducing you to the Turner family, to their everyday routine that comes at the cost of togetherness. There’s some surprisingly effective organic humour that helps you tide by these scenes, which includes a hilarious football banter between Ricky and a delivery ‘client’ (a word Abbie expresses distaste for). Or like when Ricky’s daughter gets tipped a lot, and he jokingly calls her a gold digger.
Abbie is a fascinating character, an antithesis of Maloney. The system finds her humanity to be a hindrance though, keeping in tune with the point of this film. It’s a film that also makes some observations about the irony of machines at work. Machines that were supposed to make jobs easier, but have somehow done the reverse. As one of Abbie’s clients asks, “You are working from 7:30 am to 9 pm. Whatever happened to eight-hour work days?” The film presents the delivery device as almost a haunting machine, one that humans can barely get any joy around. In a beautiful scene with Ricky and his daughter, she asks the sort of questions he, in his desperation to make money, can barely think of. In another scene, an ugly spat escalates between Ricky and son over the confiscation of the latter’s mobile phone. Abbie later points out that the phone is almost his very life. My mobile phone has looked pretty menacing for a while, since the film.
A big reason why you care so much for the tragedies in the Turner residence is that all of them have big, fuzzy hearts. Ricky doesn’t mind receiving profanity from his son. His son doesn’t make a big deal out of being hurt by his father, when in the presence of a bigger event. Even their little daughter tries to rescue their family with a brazen act. Or how about the scene when an enraged Abbie absolutely tears into Ricky’s boss amid the silence of a hospital—only to quickly realise that the system is slowly eating into her goodness too?
It’s a film that has its main characters start off on a low and sink deeper and deeper. Tamil cinema fans know this as a Bala film. But where the Tamil auteur’s characters bleed mostly externally, it occurs internally here. This makes it more relatable, more frightening. Abbie explains it all with a nightmare she has: “I feel like we are being drawn into the quicksand, and our children are trying to rescue us with a branch.” The quicksand, of course, is the system, and the children too, its hapless victims. If that doesn’t break you…