First off, that poster is a bit misleading; it makes the story out to be something along the lines of a young lad overcoming all odds and forces against him to prevail in some situation important to him, and that’s not what Kes is really about. Kes is about a young boy finding something that makes him happy amid a life of troubles and woes, and how that ultimately affects him. I’m not all that familiar with Ken Loach or his work, but he is apparently very well regarded as an English director, and watching Kes, it is easy to see his style of filmmaking at work.
The film follows young Billy Casper, an English lad who is often tormented by his older brother at home, and by the teachers and students at his school. Really, he’s not a bad kid; he’s just misunderstood, and has no outlet with which to channel his energies productively. This changes when he spies a falcon (or kestrel) nest on a farm; he is immediately taken with the birds, and after stealing a book about falconry from the local bookshop, he claims one of the birds and begins to train it, finally finding something in his life that seems worthwhile. One thing that should definitely be mentioned up-front; the accents in this film are THICK, so much so that it’s damn hard to make out what people are saying more than half the time. It grows on you and gets easier as the film goes on, but for the first half hour or so, you’re more likely than not left to scratch your head when people talk to each other, so heads up. That said, Loach appears to be a director very much of the same heart as Vittorio De Sica, a filmmaker Loach has readily admitted is a favorite of his. Kes is an extremely naturalistic film, using non-actors and generally eschewing anything akin to presentation value in favor of simply capturing the actual world as the events transpire. Normally, especially in the case of Italian neorealism, this would make for a stagnant, entertainment-less production, but Kes is surprisingly engaging. Most of it is thanks to David Bradley, who plays Billy; he comes off as a much more likable version of Cyril from Le Gamin au Velo; troubled, and constantly at odds with the world around him, but here, unlike the other film, Billy is a good kid at heart, and we can see that through Bradley’s performance. The other thing that I liked about this was that it didn’t opt for pure neorealism, but instead merely a natural manner of capturing the images; it was still a film, and it knew that about itself. The music was also very much in tune with the mood and mindset of the film, and helped give it an extra emphasis on entertainment that the film would’ve otherwise lacked.
Like I said, this one takes a while to grow on you, not just with the heavily accented English but with the story as well. But once it does, it becomes very heartening; you can feel your spirit buoyed by the relationship between Billy and his kestrel, and it is that frame of mind (along with the positive repercussions of said relationship) that the film works best in, and thankfully the film knows that as well. I really liked this one; despite the ending, it was really a feel-good film, and it was one that I didn’t even know I needed, but arrived at just the right time for me to appreciate it fully. Check this out if you ever get the chance; it’s got a lot in common with other list films, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ultimately worth it.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10