Jimmy’s Hall, a history class that is a little too heavy [critique]

To (re) see this evening on Arte.

1932 – After a 10-year exile in the United States, Jimmy Gralton returns home to help his mother take care of the family farm. The Ireland he finds again, ten years after the civil war, has a new government. All hopes are allowed… Following the solicitations of the young people of County Leitrim, Jimmy, despite his reluctance to provoke his old enemies like the Church or the landowners, decides to reopen the “Hall”, a free and open youth center. to all where we meet to dance, study or discuss. The success is immediate. But the growing influence of Jimmy and his progressive ideas is not to everyone’s taste in the village. Tensions resurface.

In 2014, Jimmy’s Hall was expected around the corner. Firstly because eight years after his Palme d’Or for The wind picks up (and 17 years later Hidden Agenda, one of his best films), Ken loach looked back on the origins of the war between Ireland and England. But we were waiting Jimmy’s Hall especially like the end of the old filmmaker’s game. Loach had announced his desire to stop fiction and therefore bowed out on one last Irish dance … Except that since then, the filmmaker has shot two new films, Me, Daniel Blake, for which he received a new Palme d’Or in 2016, and Sorry We Missed You, in 2019. Here is our review of Jimmy’s Hall, rebroadcast this evening on Arte.

Jimmy’s Hall tells the true story of Jimmy Gralton, Communist leader exiled in the US who, in the mid-1930s, returns to the country, rebuilds a ballroom and defies religious and reactionary prohibitions to live his dream of a fairer Irish nation and more united. From the credits, we can see where we want to go Ken loach. The film opens with archive footage of New York clubs where blacks and whites exhaust themselves in liberating dances. Then, he cuts across plans of Irish moor, tranquil, eternal, from which a cart slowly comes out. Jimmy’s back in town. While Jimmy’s companions read Yeats and heat up to evil rhythms, it is the reactionary forces that study, profess, chastise and read (Marx to find out what the enemy thinks, the Bible to make sense of the world). The message is clear: we can be left-wing and happy, change the world by celebrating. From a filmmaker focused on dialectics and preaching it, it’s an enticing promise …

The subject and the historical context are indeed fascinating. The appealing stake. The trouble is that ray staging, Loach continues to lead his too demonstrative filmmaker’s boat. The first half hour leaves hope. He films the moor, the people, the houses with inspiration, each shot sounding like declarations of independence. A ballroom scene promises an Irish bacchanal… His lethal weapon – Barry Ward, the perfect socialist “Christ” – is impressive. But everything quickly grows heavier in the dialectic. The Church and the State are the caricatured agents of repression. The punitive mass scenes are caricatures. We are far, very far from the strength of his first films, rough diamonds of social realism, models of revolutionary incandescence. On screen, he never achieves what he really aims: an ode to freedom, joy and humor. Everything is predictable, calculated, a little stuffy. Even though they are not directing models (no shots on the feet or legs), both dance scenes bring life, but the comedy scenes feel forced and grotesque (the cop raid looks like a credits roll of Benny Hill). Despite himself, despite his efforts, Jimmy’s Hall remains a lesson in dialectical history which never rustles with the wind of freedom aimed at the filmmaker and which makes Ireland. The selection of Jimmy’s Hall, unofficial sequel to his Palme d’Or and the latest feature by a Cannes filmmaker, basically looks like a pre-retirement gift.

“Another world is possible, and even necessary”: in Cannes, the committed speech of Ken Loach in full

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Jimmy’s Hall, a history class that is a little too heavy [critique]