Loach’s social conscience

The Spirit of 45 directed by Ken Loach
The Spirit of 45 directed by Ken Loach

AS a director of fiction Ken Loach has always demonstrated an uncompromising leftish sensibility so it is no surprise that when he turns to documentary it comes with an agenda.

The Spirit of ‘45 (Cert U) sets out by celebrating the achievements of the 1945 Labour government and the mood of the nation at the end of the Second World War that unexpectedly brought about their election victory.

It ticks off the reforms they introduced, many of them such as the NHS and education which we take for granted today, even if nationalised industries did not prove as lasting.

The talking heads Loach assembles – mostly trade unionists from the time or their descendants, politicians like Tony Benn or modern day academics – look back with wistful admiration and hardly a dissenting voice.

So you begin to wonder how it was that Labour failed to win a second term and the Tories got back in. But just as the chronology reaches 1951 and the Festival of Britain the film abruptly jumps to the image of Margaret Thatcher. Loach’s treatise becomes how her government destroyed virtually all that had been achieved by the Spirit of 45. This seems to cover ground all too familiar to us.

The early sections are the fascinating part of the film with some illuminating stuff among the footage sourced from regional and national archives, as well as vintage sound recordings. The film-maker’s decision to use black and white for the interviews to match the archive footage can sometimes be confusing, leaving you wondering if you are watching contemporary interviews or ones from the archive.

From the Romanian director of the 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, comes Beyond the Hills (Cert 15), another powerful film centring on the bond between two young women.

Whereas the first abortion-themed film depicted the heartlessness of the state, the new film exposes a religious institution perpetuating ignorance and poverty.

Based on a real story, it largely takes place within the confines of an isolated Orthodox convent where Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) is a novice.

Alina (Cristina Flutur), her friend from their days together in an orphanage arrives after several years in Germany to try and persuade her to return with her . But Voichita has found refuge in faith and a family in the nuns and their priest, and refuses. Alina cannot understand how her friend can prefer a life of austerity ruled over by a bigoted priest.

Clearly troubled mentally and physically, Alina’s defiance of the priest is interpreted as demonic and they eventually resort to exorcism with disastrous consequences.

While exposing a primitive spirituality and religious intolerance and, Mungiu also shows the failings of the world outside, particularly in the medical and judicial systems.