The thing I hate most about travelling on the train is the walk along the platform. This is where you have to endure the sight of the first class carriages – each carriage as vacant as the previous, each as redundant as the one before. You board the standard class hoping that this time you won’t have to stand outside the toilet for the entire journey for lack of available seats. It’s almost enough to make you (well, actually, me) want to make a film about it, using the train as an allegory of the state where the standard classes violently seize control of the train, redistribute the first class seats and collectively decide on a new direction. Alas (and probably fortunately), I’ve been beaten to it by three of the most highly acclaimed directors in the world – Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami and Ken Loach. Although they don’t attempt any overt analogy of revolution, their film Tickets is set entirely on a train and, alongside other things, addresses issues of social division and class solidarity.
Tickets is not unique for having more than one director. Yet far from being simply episodic, and though there are clear distinctions between each of the directors’ parts, the film successfully achieves a great sense of unity. Tickets is definitely one film, and not three. Its continuity is accomplished on two levels. Explicitly it happens in the centrality of the location (a train going from Austria to Rome) and the intersecting of characters throughout. Implicitly each story looks at the relationships between passengers of different backgrounds and of different generations, and out of those rich exchanges explores themes of empathy and trust.
First up is Italian director Olmi, probably best known for his 1978 Palme d’Or award-winning feature The Tree of Wooden Clogs. The most poetic of the three, his part centres on a 60 year old scientist who, on his way to celebrate his grandson’s birthday, recollects the conversation he had with his PR woman before boarding. He engages in writing and rewriting a letter to her in an attempt to express his desires, simultaneously lost in their exchange and his childhood fantasies. But his thoughts are constantly interrupted, partly by his own resistance and partly by the events around him. He is most disturbed when one particularly annoying army officer, who looks like a poster boy for imperialism, sits opposite him after harassing a refugee family. That, and a symbolic shot of milk spilling between sliding doors, is enough to make the scientist wake up and smell the inequality.
Kiarostami is next in line. With his first film on 35mm since his DV adventures (Ten, Five), the Iranian filmmaker reminds us just how good he can still be on celluloid. Ever since his first film Kiarostami has been fascinated with a continually changing point of view. He suggests you look one way before asking you to look another. Thus nothing is quite certain in what seems like a story about a stubborn woman and her son who, after encountering a teenage girl from his home town, is caught between conversations of childhood romance and servicing orders. But far from just a series of superficial twists, Kiarostami’s subtle realism makes for compelling viewing. A comical struggle at the end, exquisitely shot through Venetian blinds, reaffirms the calibre of Kiarostami’s cinema.
Last but definitely not least comes Ken Loach. While arguably the simplest of the three cinematically, Loach’s part is nonetheless undoubtedly the most interesting politically. Three young supermarket workers are on their way to see their team, Celtic, play Rome in the Champions League final. Having nicked a stack of sandwiches from work, they share their food with some Albanian refugees on board. But as one of them loses his ticket, they face an ethical dilemma when they suspect it has been stolen by one of the family. Contradictory class consciousness is the game, and Loach certainly knows how to play ball. It’s a magnificent finale to a beautiful film that feels surprisingly whole. It’s a pleasure to see the work of just one of these directors alone, but an opportunity to watch a film by all three? Just make sure you get your ticket.
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