It’s the Working, the Working, Just the Working Life

Who’s America’s foremost cinematic chronicler of the contemporary working-class?

France has the Dardenne Brothers. Japan has Hirokazu Koreeda. The United Kingdom has Ken Loach (I’m sure other countries have their own who I’m failing to remember, or who I’m not familiar with!).

And yet, the country with perhaps the largest workforce comes up short (or I’m drawing a blank) when it comes to filmmakers committed primarily to exploring the lives of ordinary citizens (the final line of Loach’s I, Daniel Blake: “I am a citizen. Nothing more, and nothing less”). Yes, the films of the aforementioned auteur trio do not focus solely on this subject — like all great art, they’re about more than just one topic — but these three directors have dedicated their careers to turning their cameras upon those often lost amongst the faceless firmament (celebrities pop up in their work every now and then, but for the most part they use lesser-known faces, reinforcing the characters’ anonymous everyperson natures). Though their movies usually contain plots of some sort as loose driving engines, they revolve predominantly around plunging the audience into the lifestyle and existence of everyday plight.

Stylistically, they achieve this end through differentiated means. The Dardennes immerse through handheld cinematography, sticking by the sides of their central characters and their perspectives; we experience what they experience, we see what they see, like a moving fly on the wall over their shoulders and buzzing about their faces.

Koreeda and Loach’s visuals are more restrained. They have simple, straightforward, unfussy, largely frills-free approaches, similar to the lives their characters lead; there’s a necessity in getting to the point, with no time for aesthetic flourishes. And yet, their shot compositions are no less precise and can be unpacked as endlessly for meaning as their more (obviously) attention-calling brethren. As much as we may feel enveloped in their world, and like an intimate connection has been forged with it, their lenses remain observational, as if we the viewers are outside the action.

Because we are. If we can afford a movie ticket, chances are we’re not suffering like them. And though individuals like us can help, these directors are aware of the necessity of systematic reform requiring coalitions of support; philanthropy alone cannot solve the societal ails depicted.

So my question stands: who — or, maybe even (sadly), where — is America’s working-class director?

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