My name is Joe ... (1998) is showing today only at the Gaborone Film Society at 7 pm in the A/V Centre at Maru a Pula School. This is one of Ken Loach and his masterful team's best films. Loach doesn't preach, but he does take and immerse you in powerful situations, captivating viewers and winning their empathy and possible identification with and understanding of the issues he is revealing. In this case it is poverty, drugs, alcohol, mateship, sports, loyalty, love across a cultural divide, and the tragedy inherent in misunderstandings, contradictory values, differing perspectives and domestic violence.
My name is Joe won Peter Mullan the Best Actor award at Cannes (1998). It is set in the sleazy side of Glasgow, Scotland. We first meet Joe Kavanagh (acted superbly by Peter Mullan) at an AA meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous) helping them to implement their 12-step programme. The drop line in AA group therapy is "My name is Joe, I'm an alcoholic". Joe has actually been on the wagon for 10 months. But he lives on a knife edge, trying to stay off the bottle and out of harms way, unemployed, dependent on the dole and the assistance of his understanding case worker Shanks (Gary Lewis).
Joe Kavanagh's joy in life comes not from the bottle, but from coaching a neighbourhood football team. They are good, but he wants to make them better, both as a team, and in their individual lives. He drives them to and from games and to practices in a large van. He is particularly fond of Liam (David McKay), a young man recently out of a prison after a spell being incarcerated for pushing drugs. Liam's wife, Sabine (Anne-Marie Kennedy) has tried to stay off drugs and prostitution while her husband was away.
They have a son, Scott, who is now four years old and due to go to preschool. The local community health worker, Sarah Downie (played terrifically by Louise Goodall) interviews mother and son to see if Scott is ready for preschool and if they qualify for assistance. The real problem is that Sabine's heroin-addiction has created a debt due a mobster, McGowan (David Hayman), and Liam is told either prostitute his wife or have his legs broken.
This is a film about a number of lives of people who are living close to the edge. If they go over into booze or drugs that could ruin their ascent out of hell. But the temptations are great and the difficulties of staying sober and clean immense. The beauty of a Ken Loach film with a script by Paul Laverty and cinematography by Barry Ackroyd with complimentary music by George Fenton is how it captures the tensions and subtle dimensions of reality. Somehow they combine issues from love to poverty, substance abuse to loyalty, mateship and sports, without creating cardboard figures and trite representation of issues. At points it may not be easy to watch - even painful - because we have entered into other lives and identified with them.
But it is the actors who carry the day. When things come to a head Sarah Downie says to Joe: "Get out of my way! Leave me!" He replies: "No. No. No, calm down. Just calm down." Given the circumstances this is not so easy. She says: "Are you gonna hit me too, Joe?" Caught by circumstances and a system that doesn't really care about them, to walk the line becomes next to impossible. To fall off all too easy. The danger is that a fall may have tragic consequences.
My Name Is Joe is made more palatable by humour, and the presence of quiet optimism. We all want to live in the hope that things will be better. So do Joe and his friends. Money can help to make things better, but money is not the most important thing. Though the film is a Glasgow story, and the dialogue is in English, it is Glasgowian English that creates what is called the "burr-and-brogue barrier". Therefore, subtitles are necessary and this time they are available (Ken Loach also recognised this need for subtitles in his earlier film Riff-Raff).
There are some great scenes in this flick: when Sarah and Joe are bowling against the song Spirit in the Sky; then the scene when Joe and Sarah have a confrontation - a combination of fine acting and good dialogue; and an exceptional scene when Joe, the father-figure and Liam, the errant-son figure, try to square things. Joe must save himself before he can become another person's saviour. This is not a Hollywood drama; so don't expect a sweet and cozy ending.
My Name Is Joe is In Glasgowian with English subtitles. It is rated 16+ for language, drugs and violence. It is one hour and 41 minutes long. The director is Ken Loach. The script is by Paul Laverty. The cinematographer is Barry Ackroyd. The editor is Jonathan Morris. The music is by George Fenton.