What would parents do to protect or avenge their children? Anything, everything, say three prominent entries at the Cannes Film Festival. Looking for Eric is the third.
Pity Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a postman whose life is going around in circles. Literally: he's suffered a panic attack while in his car and keeps navigating a roundabout near his Manchester home. He has been estranged from his ex-wife for 30 years; his wastrel stepsons have no use for him. His only soul mate is soccer legend Eric Cantona, the French-born star who was voted Manchester United's Player of the Century, and whose life-size photo our Eric confides to while smoking a joint in his bedroom. One day he turns around and the real Cantona is there, offering advice on life and fatherhood: "Trust in your teammates; that's how you win the game." When the elder son gets in trouble for harboring a gun owned by one of his hoodlum pals, Eric springs to his defense with a raid on the hoodlum's house. They call it Operation Cantona. (See pictures of the Cannes 2009 red carpet.)
For more than four decades, Ken Loach has been making socially committed films about the English working class. His Palme d'Or three years ago, for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, was really a lifetime-achievement award for holding the socialist banner without tiring. Eric, the ninth feature collaboration between Loach and writer Paul Laverty, is one of their sweeter, more larkish works. In its portrayal of someone who keeps on plugging against all odds, the film is similar in spirit to Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, if not to Frank Capra's inspirational tributes to the dogged underdog. And Cantona is a delight, savoring his legendary status in English sports culture and his role in helping a bloke who could really use a guardian angel.
The film's climax is the most benign version of an action-movie shoot-out: Eric, his elder son and their mates go after the hoodlum with squirt guns full of red paint. In Loach's world, humiliating the enemy is enough; then it's back to work. For as the movie's fantasy Cantona intones: "The noble vengeance is to forgive."