As all reputable news outlets assure us, privatization benefits everyone–which is lucky, since these same outlets report that privatization is inevitable. We live out a happy fate, which rolls on despite the occasional need to report, say, the resignation under fire of Britain’s transport secretary, Stephen Byers. Mr. Byers comes to mind because I happen to be writing to you on the very day he stepped down, following the bankruptcy of his privatized Railtrack service, and also the fifth fatal rail crash in six years of newly efficient service.
You may have noticed that when the route of progress bumps over such inconveniences, all reputable reports concentrate on the disappointment of the privatizers (who nevertheless must go on) and of consumers (who certainly will be happier sometime soon). Nobody ever seems to report on the experience of the privatized workers–nobody, that is, except for Ken Loach. His new film, The Navigators, finds drama in the resentments and resistances, adjustments and accommodations of a crew of track repairmen in Yorkshire, who yesterday worked for British Rail and today begin working for a new company, Midlands Infrastructure, which in another two weeks will be called something else entirely. Not that the name matters. Twelve more weeks down the line, and the men will all be working for themselves–that is, for an employment agency, which will hire them out to contractors who needn’t bother with sick pay, vacation time or a superstitious regard for safety rules.
The Navigators is now about to receive its US premiere as the opening-night feature of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. Now in its thirteenth year, the festival will be on view June 14-27 at New York’s Walter Reade Theater, in Lincoln Center, where Ken Loach is also scheduled to receive the Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award. An unaffectedly modest man, Loach will probably try to blend in with the audience, as if hoping someone else will show up to claim the prize. But as The Navigators shows, it’s his by right. Every performance in the film is effortlessly convincing; every scene plays out with its own easy rhythm. There’s time and space in The Navigators for domestic trials (as when a man attempts to court his estranged wife and winds up feeding a bouquet of roses through the mail slot), casual slapstick and practical jokes–even for a spirited defense of day labor. “There’s plenty of work, at top dollar,” declares one of the crew, who seems happy now to be an entrepreneur of his own labor power. And so, when doom strikes, it seems foreordained but not at all forced.
Of the pictures I had a chance to sample in this year’s festival–there are thirty-three in all–The Navigators struck me as being both the freshest and the most Old Masterly. This is hardly a definitive statement; I wasn’t able to preview such big bookends of the festival as the new feature films by Costa-Gavras and Chris Eyre or the new documentary by Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Alberto Vendemmiati, the team that made Jung: War in the Land of the Mujaheddin. But here are a few recommendations: