After projects for the BBC, indie filmmaker Ken Loach stepped up to features with this remarkable work, an utterly convincing & memorable portrait of a Northern England coal-mining town (Yorkshire), and specifically a directionless working-class kid who finds & trains a kestrel, a sort of small hawk or falcon. 15 years old, and the runt of his class at school, his success with ‘Kes’ brings him a sense of purpose & personal worth, a feeling he keeps bottled up from his distant mum, his mean-spirited older brother and his classmates. At least, he does until one thrilling moment, one of the great scenes in British cinema, when he opens up in front of his class thanks to a tough, but sympathetic teacher. But his breakthrough will be short lived. Cast largely with non-professionals locals, Loach coaxes a series of one-of-a-kind character perfs that are terrifying & hilarious in a manner Charles Dickens would have appreciated. (Young David (Dai) Bradley as the boy and the school staff are particular wonders.) Criterion has beautifully restored the natural look & lovely grain in the atmospheric lensing of Chris Menges and there are English subtitles for Stateside viewers who will find the dialect, slang & mumbles of the territory all but indecipherable.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The acting is so remarkably loose & natural, it makes you wonder why modern self-indulgent Method Acting styles are considered in any way, shape or form realistic.
DOUBLE-BILL: François Truffaut’s SMALL CHANGE/’76 brings a Gallic joie de vivre to its essentially happy portrait of French small-town kids. Where Loach devastates, Truffaut’s cast, raised in sunshine instead of by the coal pits, can honestly end their story with a smooch.