CANNES - Ken Loach provides more than a wee dram of humor and Scottish charm undercut by working class realities with his new film "The Angels' Share", which premieres in Cannes on Tuesday, about a Glasgow delinquent who finds a way out through whisky.
Although Angels' Share is a feel-good film, and is marketed as a comedy, the Scottish picture written by Paul Laverty carries a strong social message that comes to the defense of unemployed youth left with little chance of a better life.
One journalist at Tuesday's news conference described "Angel's Share" as a "ray of sunshine on a rainy day." The film's press screening on Monday night followed a slew of slow-paced art films in recent days in the Cannes competition lineup.
Yet despite the light tone throughout most of the movie, Loach demonstrates a keen awareness of the gritty reality of growing up poor in Glasgow, which provides a counterpoint to the rosy view of Scotland exported to the world at large.
"It's part of the tourist view of Scotland, with the whisky, the Highlands, Edinburgh, the castle and the shortbread," Loach told reporters.
"The reality is Robbie and Rhino and the rest of the gang. We had a little fun in contrasting the two images of Scotland," added the director whose "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" won the Palme d'Or for best picture in Cannes in 2006.
The new movie follows Robbie, played by first-time actor Paul Brannigan, who is sentenced to community service for a brawl with neighborhood thugs he cannot seem to escape.
The supervisor of his work crew, Harry (John Henshaw), is a kindly soul who recognizes a softer side in Robbie, who has just become a father for the first time with his girlfriend.
Before long, Harry, a whisky aficionado, takes his motley band of ne'er-do-wells on a day trip to a distillery where Robbie's curiosity is piqued.
One of his new pals, the nimble-fingered Mo (Jasmin Riggins) pilfers a few bottles during the tour, and Robbie later proves during a taste test to have a previously undiscovered talent for recognizing the nuances of fine malt whiskies.
FILM "SAVED MY LIFE"
The film's title refers to the two percent of malt whisky that evaporates inside the cask.
Robbie's subtle palate now established, the movie follows the group of friends as they pull off an audacious whisky heist - carried out while wearing kilts, of course - which ultimately leads to the protagonist's redemption.
Along the way are hysterical scenes between Robbie and his fellow crewmembers that had the audience at a press screening in stitches. The Mona Lisa, donkeys and Albert Einstein make their way into one memorable exchange, led by Robbie's dim-witted sidekick Rhino (William Ruane).
Brannigan was discovered by Laverty while working with kids in a community centre after experiencing tough times himself.
"Hands up, I would say that Paul has saved my life. I had nowhere to turn, I got a kid, who knows what I would have done for money," Brannigan said.
Brannigan said he came from a rough background like his character and was "very familiar" with that life.
"In all honesty there are thousands and thousands of kids like Robbie in Glasgow. Same story, same situation. Unemployed, got kids," he said.
Immediately after shooting Loach's film, Brannigan landed a part in a film with Scarlett Johansson.
"We had a few scenes where I was chatting her up and I took my clothes off. She didn't take her clothes off," he said.
"She was an absolute fantastic girl and I was quite nervous at first."
But Brannigan said he would go back to normal life in Glasgow again after the film festival.
"After this I'm unemployed. I do four hours a week football coaching. And that's just the way it is just now."