Movie scene
Scene from the movie "You Weren't Here" by Ken Loach. Photo: Disclosure.

“Last Saturday night I got married. My wife and I settled down. Now my wife and I are separated. I'm going for a walk around town.”. A lady, Rosie, sings while combing Abby's hair (Debbie Honeywood), who is sitting in front of her with her legs and arms together and arranged in a harmonious way, disguising in parts – with her posture and the speed of wiping her eyes – the fragile emotional state. It is neither a pivotal nor pivotal scene, but it is endowed with the kindness and candor deftly injected together in the new movie by British filmmaker Ken Loach, at 83 years of age — still vigorous. 

Sorry We Missed You, translated in Brazil to You were not here, concerns Abby and her family in Newcastle, North East England. She is a nurse and caregiver for the elderly and people with reduced mobility who works on a “no guarantees scheme”, receiving only for services provided and working only when she is called upon by her boss. Her husband, Ricky (Kris Hitchen), lost his construction job and the chance to get a mortgage after the economic collapse of 2008. On the recommendation of a friend, he starts working as a self-employed driver, a concept that is explained to us shortly. at the beginning of the film by fleet supervisor Maloney (Ross Brewster): “You are not hired here, [you] come on board. Something we like to call integration. You don't work for us, [you] work with us. You don't drive for us, [you] perform services"


Even if he loses his temper a few hours, Ricky is a loving father, as is Abby, whose dealings with people damaged by old age and abandonment may make her invest deeply in her family's unity - a difficult task considering mind the couple's long journeys. “I'm watching here. From 7:30 am to 21 pm? And the eight-hour shifts?” asks Molly, another of the ladies in Abby's care. As a consequence, there is a weight attached to both, a parental guilt for not spending enough time with Seb's children. (Rhys Stone) and Liza Jane (Katie Proctor). “He is growing every day before our eyes. I mean, that's when I see him". The greatest (whose author's empathic observation may recall The Bike Boy of the Dardennes, or even Head up, firstborn of Emmanuelle Bercot in the direction) has talent for graffiti, but starts to miss classes and ends up getting into trouble with the police, while the youngest is smart enough to surprise her own father, however, worries Abby and Ricky when she breaks up have trouble sleeping.

Where were we when we weren't here?

The issues that intersect You were not here are brought by Loach in a timely manner, mainly what can be related to the “Society of Fatigue” (concept by south korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han) and “24/7” logic (unraveled by art critic and essayist Jonathan Crary). We have arrived at a formula of society where there are no intervals of calm, rest or retirement. In its place, there is a collective weariness, a “relentless translation into the monetary value of any possible time interval or of any conceivable social relationship, of making all the elements of our lives convertible to market values”, as says Crary, adding that time for rest or well-being is simply too expensive in the view of the current global economy, the message conveyed? It is, therefore, that the long-term survival of the individual becomes increasingly expendable. 

As an example, both Maloney and his “fleet mates” obey with almost Ozymandian fear the device that records deliveries, in which drivers — within a macro chain — are nothing more than digital records that can be monitored: “digital doesn’t weigh, doesn’t smell, doesn’t offer resistance”, Han would comment. The author of Fatigue Society, For El País newspaper, states that “we need our own time that the productive system does not allow us to have; we need free time, which means being idle, with nothing productive to do, but which should not be confused with recovery time to continue working”.

Although the film does not break barriers within Loach's filmography, it echoes a lament — shared by Paul Laverty, the film's screenwriter and longtime collaborator of the filmmaker — that matters more than ever before seeing the movement of “uberization of the economy” which is the cause and aggravating factor of the phenomena described above. “I thought it was my business”, argues Ricky, receiving the answer from Maloney: “Yes, but it's my franchise”

One of the IBGE survey pointed out that 38,8 million of the 93,8 million people that make up the workforce in Brazil worked informally in the third quarter of last year. As with Ricky, there is no fixed salary, benefits or time off. In the meantime, practically all the costs of the service, from maintenance to transport, from the internet to insurance, are left to the worker. Freedom is becoming rarer, contrary to the initial image sold by applications such as the one that names this movement.

Despite the harshness of the subject, Loach manages to bring some humor to the matter through some of Ricky's comic slips - including an absurd attempt to evade a street inspector and a give-and-take with a client who proves to be a supporter of the rival team - and using the figure of Maloney, whose “coaching” style positivism is a mockery in itself.  

last thoughts

Sometimes the feature film is too didactic, with a somewhat formulaic approach, something that we can highlight in view of the character of dialogue with the British public that Laverty manages to establish through this approach. It is an eight-handed story: the family – going through the wear and tear of the free market, the end of the welfare state and the tribulations shown by the creators – is still the focus of the film, it is its object, the avatar of all macro issues. of the story and who allows Laverty's script to take shape. It would be difficult to think of the execution of You were not here without this set of actors. In fact, the filmmaker maintains his tendency to find new faces that seem to have been born for his stories, facing the narrative progression with sincerity. This kind of collective protagonism also allows us to examine the impact, reverberated on a family scale and across these two generations, of the series of frustrations suffered by Abby and Ricky in their work.

In a scene from "You Weren't Here", Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) sit together to eat during the delivery break.
Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) sit together to eat during their delivery break.

To Ken Loach — in an interview with El País — there is still reason to hope: “The first is that people will always resist and someone will always fight. The second is that we live in a system that cannot go on any longer. Let's think, for example, of the work of couriers who use gasoline to make their deliveries, when oil has its days numbered. We are destroying the small businesses in the centers of cities and towns, ordering and buying everything on Amazon. Do we want to continue like this?”. 

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