Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)


Wes Anderson's film have nearly always harboured in them a sad sense of loss, a melancholic glance at an enterprise and/or person fallen from great heights and majesty. Just think of the departed mothers and fathers of Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited, the flailing dynasty of The Royal Tenenbaums, and Steve Zissou tragically looking to regain past glories, literally cast out in a sea of bereavement. Anderson's latest further looks into these themes while divulging once again the director's fascination with the art of storytelling, entering further into his own painfully designed fantasy world perhaps more than ever before. 

Spanning many decades but largely told over the span of two fictional versions of the First and Second World Wars, the story centres around the fine Grand Budapest Hotel and its concierge - Mr. Gustav H - played by Ralph Fiennes on barnstorming comical form. The happenings of the once legendary hotel and its passionately loving high servant is told from the aged eyes of Mr. Zero Moustafa, once a young lobby boy trained under the scrutinous command of Gustav. But that's not all, as even the frail Moustafa's account of his youth is recounted by a young writer (Jude Law) who goes on to publish a book on these memoirs. The film opens with the older author (Tom Wilkinson) reading from his praised work of the man's life he was once lucky enough to have access to. Anderson's penchant for theatrics and the joy of storytelling has never been felt more than here in this multilayered recounting of a past-era and a man whose greatness lies in the memory and heart of a once young upstart.

Mr. Gustav H is a professional at heart and in the hands of these storytellers is held up as if the greatest concierge whom ever existed; his work treated like a dance as he swans from room to room, seeing to needs before they've even arisen in the guest's minds. But he's not quite the professional one presumes from the start, he harbours a 'playful' streak that involves the seduction and obtained adoration of the hotel's various rich (and elderly) female clients. It seems innocent enough through the light nature of Gustav's charms yet this dark vice, or materialistic streak of his, is never fully explored and is merely a subjective footnote we're left to mull over.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a strange mix of tones and it's in the marvellous use of shading that marks its biggest success. The wafer thin plotting of a will left by one of Gustav's matrons and the subsequent war waged by her enraged son goes hand-in-hand with the audacious Python-esque slapstick humour. This is counterbalanced by the cut aways to the aged Moustafa as he recounts the events, his love and loss of both his loves - Gustav and the spritely young baker, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Such moments are rife with mourning and become the film's most anchoring scenes that make for the heaviest moments in what from the offset could have been Anderson's lightest outing yet. The humour is pitch perfect, largely thanks Fiennes's turn in a truly inspired character such as Gustav (his effortless reciting of poetry throughout never loses its comic hold) yet this is again neutralised by the oppressive darkness brought by the murderous hitman Joplin (Willem Defoe) who's out for Gustav's blood. This brutal turn from Defoe's hitman and the swan song like recital from Moustafa are harmonised in the arrival of a Nazi-like militia that casts a shadow over the golden years told thus far. This malevolent force destroys this way of life personified by Gustav and buries it forever much like the fallen aristocracy in Visconti's The Leopard (1963).

With an ensemble cast to rival all casts assembled before it The Grand Budapest Hotel is an uneven affair due to its vast attention span but one that manages to retain a dark and sad resonance thanks to a finely built mythology weaved in throughout. And, of course, the ghost of Kumar Pallana, the Anderson regular and dear friend who was sadly lost last October who's lack of presence looms over this tale of pain and awe. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis (2014, Joel & Ethan Coen)


Joel and Ethan Coen have always been accused of lording it over their characters with a disdained manner, jeering at their shortfalls and downwardly spiralling lives thanks often to their creation's common stupidity. Whereas their plots do often deal with failure, this critic doesn't share such an opinion and it certainly doesn't apply to their Inside Llewyn Davis that follows the daily trials of a talented (yet sour) New York folk singer in the cruel pursuit of success. The film feels like a swan song thanks to the dedicated, morose central performance of Oscar Isaac as Llewyn, and its steely,withered photography matches the harshness given and received by its titular anti-hero. In fact, and this depends entirely how you want to look at it, the film is actually one of hope as with history on its side we know that the folk boom is just around the corner in 1961. All out of hope, can Llewyn continue the good fight and not compromise with this musical shift so near? Perhaps settle on mediocrity, or a more morbid fate hinted at throughout.

History is of course on our side in this case and not on Llewyn's, which is what makes most of the film such a gruelling experience as what little resilience on his face at the start is wiped off through constant hardship. Like Lebowski's 'The Dude' we have another man out of step with his time - the product of another era. Here however, unlike 'The Dude', Llewyn is a step ahead of the game in the Universe's grand plan yet is perceived by the music business as dated; as a producer says coldly after one of Llewyn's heartfelt renditions, "I don't see any money in it".

Llewyn is a prickly character and it can be argued is responsible for much of his detriment, whether that be in his personal or professional life. Though within this tale and with much thanks to Isaac's complete understanding of his character he is also a sympathetic man; he takes a beating for heckling another act without much complaint, receives a bombardment of vitriol from a past lover, Jean (Carey Mulligan), because on his face you can see he agrees with her, and upon upsetting a dinner party hosted by a couple who've been his biggest supporters, realises he overstepped the mark and does indeed apologise later. His caring for a neighbour's cat which he managed to get locked out is also endearing as well as redeeming and reminds of the touching relationship between man and dog in Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. (1952). Here is a man who will continue to apologise his entire life because he will continue to upset people - why? Because he cannot and will not change, though this is softened by his acceptance of what an"asshole" he can be. 

With the 60s in its infancy, still blooming and with these players inside the eye of the storm and without a removed perception of this developing counter culture, Llewyn is rebelling against the bourgeoisie (despite resting on it when he really needs a sofa) and either stifles or enriches himself because he refuses to dilute or add others to his act. This is a film about integrity but not only that one about loss and grief too.

Bruno Delbonnel's photography brutally and yet beautifully captures the unforgiving winter, the smoke filled bars where the folk acts play - most famously The Gaslight. You're able to feel these places, taking and placing you in the comfort of the front row or in the blistering cold as Llewyn embarks on a surreal-tinged road trip to Chicago, accompanied by a near mute Garrett Hedland and a Jazz informed John Goodman. The look captured by the Coens and Delbonnel is almost anaemic, with the image seemingly drained of life to match Llewyn's doleful gaze; a dolefulness explained by the suicide of his musical partner and friend, Mike. Much is explained in this loss, this man who wasn't there hangs over the film and torments Llewyn who struggles to carry on alone.

It can be argued that since 2007's No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen began a new elegiac chapter to their career that seems natural given as the duo are approaching their sixties; even the rather spritely Burn After Reading dealt with marital breakdown and midlife crises amidst its broad strokes. This has continued through their True Grit which also dealt with a loss of innocence and the passing of time, a touching story under its steely heroine. With their latest feeling like a funeral procession of sorts despite its sporadic moments of hilarity and a soulful soundtrack that will surely go on to rival even O' Brother Where Art Thou?

A typical Coen protagonist tends to be one of pretension, or one who misjudges their station. They also tend to be passive, or at least ignorant to the consequences of their own actions. Inside Llewyn Davis presents us with another man who gets whipped by fate and boxed by life due to his unfortunate action, or lack of it. It presents us with questions and avenues of which Llewyn could head but leaves us to answer them for ourselves in the same way the similarly pitched companion piece A Serious Man did. 

It's 1961 and the situation in Vietnam is escalating, Bob Dylan is about to burst the folk scene open, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy not too far off in the distance; will America ever get over that loss? Will Llewyn ever get over his? For a man who can't seem to think ahead by barely a day no one can see what's actually around the corner. So whether Llewyn reenlists as a seaman, continues his plight as a musician (untainted or not), or follows a similar fate to his partner Mike, we're left to ponder. Life's unknowable nature is at once petrifying and yet in its infinite possibility should be more exciting and hopeful than we ever give it credit for, the cynic in us so often wins. If only we could view our own lives like we view Llewyn Davis's existence, a fantasy if there ever was one.

Head over to Kubrick on the Guillotine for part one, two, and three of my Coen Brothers career retrospective.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street (2014, Martin Scorsese)



There are copious amounts of drugs consumed during The Wolf Of Wall Street. At one early point the titular Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) boasts of his day-to-day consumption that makes his job as a successful stockbroker possible. His everyday is a whirlwind of cursing, stress, and complete expenditure only made possible by the counteracting cocktail of drugs swooshing through his veins at all times. Of course, when he says with utter hubris of his favourite drug while snorting up a line of cocaine, he isn't speaking of the narcotic itself but the instrument used to consume it - money. This epic tale of greed and mayhem is directed by the 70+ year old Martin Scorsese with the same youthful vigour and passion he's always brought to the fold, written with the same attention to detail we'd expect from Terrence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) and acted so fearlessly by DiCaprio this might well be his finest performance to date.

When Jordan Belfort shows up in New York City in the late 80s to make his way up the financial ladder, he's not so much baby faced and full of innocence, no. Such broad strokes of character would be dishonest but the young professional who clearly wants to make a dollar and a cent in life is earnest enough. He's married and wants to provide, admirable, but as he ascends the corporate ladder thanks to the 'kind' jump start of a higher stockbroker played by Matthew McConaughey, whatever moral code lived by before gets destroyed almost over night.

McConaughey's Mark Hanna gives Belfort a prep-talk over lunch, or rather Martinis; this perfectly pitched scene reveals the inner workings of a stockbroker's mind, the environment they inhabit, their code of conduct. This scene echoes throughout the film and acts so well as an anchored reference point so effectively thanks to McConaughey's remarkable screen presence. He impacts on us as much as Belfort, he impresses with his hypnotising speech, lulling us in with a twisted poetry of sorts like a charming devil.

For all of The Wolf Of Wall Street's narrative vigour that continues the trademark sweep of Goodfellas and Casino, not to mention its mammoth run time, the film is perfectly pitched while it drastically changes tone and speed. Scenes such as Hanna's prep-talk feel at ease in a film that constantly pushes forward to match the overbearing ambition of its characters. Other lengthy dialogue scenes such as Belfort and his new employee Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) are equally well placed despite not actually moving the 'story' but by setting us uneasily in the psyche of the film's players. This has always been one of Scorsese's main strengths. They talk about Azoff's marriage to his first cousin, a humorous conversion set in disbelief and perversion before ending with the two smoking crack cocaine round the back of a bar. Like so many of the film's unsavoury acts it causes awkward laughter because in cases such as these you've got a choice to do either that or cry instead.

 As Belfort's own enterprise flowers with the help of Azoff and an assortment of streetwise cronies from Belfort's own past, he rises to great fortune and power in an almost Charles Foster Kane like ascension, losing bit-by-bit his perception of the real world outside of great wealth, falling into delusions of grandeur. There's a moment in Goodfellas when after living the high life and losing everything, Henry Hill looks into the camera to complain to us how horrible his working class life has become, how he misses fine food, women, drugs, and power. That seminal crime film was Scorsese's guilty pleasure as despite its rise and fall structure it doesn't actually provide redemption as Hill is only sorry for getting caught and nothing else. This attitude and radical point of addressing the audience is where TWOWS jumps off from, with Belfort at one point even stopping mid-sentence as he explains one of his scams doubting we the audience can follow him, so he dumbs it down. This cocky demeanour flows throughout as Belfort serves as our guide through this epic, sordid affair, but never does it itself talk down to its audience. This is fine filmmaking from a master director still with gas in the tank; the film is about detestable people which on this occasion doesn't equate a detestable film like some detractors have put forth. With La Dolce Vita, Fellini delved into the shallow lives and excesses of the paparazzi, the film's moral centre left aloof as finding one amongst the rising rubble of postwar Italy seemed impossible to Fellini within that time and subculture. This was the film's point and it doesn't make it any less of an important work for it.

Belfort's downfall comes not only in his ego, his belief that he's a king, but in the form of FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), and as the film descends into anarchy as the seams of Belfort and Co's company comes apart from this added heat and their inability to function on the cocktails of drugs do we really see the film for what it is - a story of addiction.

The film leaves a bad taste in the mouth but remains wholly worthy perhaps only due to the creative team behind it. It's a shameless divulgence into the lives of the shameless as Belfort's memoirs are re-inacted on screen, giving us a snapshot into his absurdist excess through success. How reliable these accounts are can be left up to the reader or viewer, though one thing is sure, it's one hell of a ride and one that has left many irate. It's been argued that the film grants Belfort and his many cronies a pardon of sorts as their lives are explored (the press have been arguing this about crime pictures since Howard Hughes's Scarface 1932), but its purpose is to look into the dark heart of money (the root of all evil) and if anything The Wolf Of Wall Street is one of the more affective representations of addiction of recent years. 

As well as an historic snapshot into the precursive events that helped the economic crash of 2007-08, and the inner mechanical workings of those who helped these events transpire through sheer greed, TWOWS acts as well as any film i've seen in recent years as a looking into addiction. For all the drugs taken they only truly serve as a platform to accomplish the real insatiable accomplishments of the stockbrokers. These are shark-like men after blood, always hungry, never content with what they've got. Belfort tries to justify the lifestyle of the rich, saying that the rich can live well while helping charities; he seems to believe these words but we never see him help anyone but himself and whatever money (if any at all) is given to the poor will be nothing on the excess riches lavished on themselves. 

When Denham's FBI look set to take Belfort down he threatens to go legit on the advice of his father (Rob Reiner), he announces it to the company and in this scene it looks for a second like the film is siding with 'The Wolf' himself, feeling pity as he steps down from his throne as others weep. But Belfort cannot leave, denounces his retirement and puts on an egotistical show as usual. Unsurprisingly this leads to his downfall as a result. It's in this moment that you see the addict, not to a substance but to a lifestyle. In the film's remarkably powerful final scene, now out of prison and supporting himself in tours of 'how to get ahead' like business seminars, he hands out a pen to his audience and asks individual members to sell it back to him. Echoing an earlier scene in which he did the same to his cronies before their business venture, DiCaprio's sad and sullen eyes reflect the disappointment of this audiences's pathetic attempts. His time as king has past, he walked (or so he thought) with the best of them, lived like the best of them. He's desperate for that high again, that inspiration, that energy to lead to that rush of riches but now he's surrounded by schmucks. 

Monday, 13 January 2014

American Hustle (2014, David O. Russell)



With an ensemble of performers that will be a hard push to beat throughout the new year, David O. Russell crafts an entertaining and tightly conceived caper out of the real events of the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s. Surprisingly touching and featuring (unsurprisingly) an array of oddball characters, American Hustle sacrifices its historical background to tell a resonant story of regained love and second chances to great effect.

The film drops us into the middle of the story as a group of as yet unidentified misfits attempt to pull off a job amid a backdrop of hidden cameras and microphones. We know the stakes are high but to what end and for why? We're not yet indulged. The audaciously hilarious opening images of an overweight balding Christian Bale gluing his hair into place is sidesplitting in its silence; it's tough to imagine a more effortlessly shocking opening image coming along in cinema this year.

As Irving Rosenfeld's (Bale) voice-over takes us through his origin as a conman and his meeting with equally cunning true love, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams),  and their successes and eventual downfall through FBI agent Richie DiMasso (Bradley Cooper), it's clear form the offset that we're in safe hands as the film lulls you into its cool pacing and confident direction.

The cinematic chameleon of Amy Adams is smartly cast as Rosenfeld's right hand woman and lover; in a film featuring characters who deal in deception for a living, as the FBI's grip tightens on the couple and their secret counter attack is left ambiguous at best, Prosser's intentions are never to be trusted as Adams retains a strong level of danger from a character who could be a best friend or worst enemy at the drop of a hat. This of course works as the film's dramatic arc due to it being on a kilter with Bale's endearingly frumpy turn; as the couple are forced to give the FBI 'crooked' politicians through financial dealings while juggling their own lives - mostly the firecracker that is Rosenfeld's wife played memorably by Jennifer Lawrence - its impossible to not want this man, played so gently by Bale to succeed.

American Hustle is entertainment through and through, with evenly paced and wisely placed humour throughout. It's hard to remember a film that gets more mileage out of its humour in hair, make-up, and costume changes alone. The drama naturally flattens as the plot strands and motives take over in the final stages, this is due to Russell being more interested in the characters and their predicaments rather than the historical context and to an extent this pays off as it avoids the history with a capital H look at the story. Though a standout scene involving a welcomingly intimidating supporting turn from Robert DeNiro certainly cranks up the heat as lives begin to hang in the balance. 

Everyone is clearly having fun here and thanks to the human emotive elements being brought out so well it really pays off as intelligent popcorn fare of the highest order. Bringing the key actors in from his last two films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), Russell tells (albeit entirely on different ground) another story of reinvention and second chances - a universally powerful theme if there ever was one. Like his performers, the director is also having a back as he makes his throwback to 1970s American cinema. In one scene Richie DiMasso listens to Rosenfeld speak at a gallery of how the forger of art can be argued as being just as talented as the artist themselves. There's some mirroring here as Russell shoots and edits with the energy and passion of 70s greats Scorsese and Lumet to name but a couple, respectfully forging his own film successfully out of the mould left by these acknowledged masters.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Young & Beautiful/Jeune & Jolie (2013, François Ozon)


Belle De Jour is perhaps the most iconic film made about prostitution. A 1967 French production made by Spaniard Luis Buñuel, it told the story of a young bourgeois housewife's ambiguous foray into high class prostitution, commanded by Cathrine Deneuve's ice queen persona and its director's penchant for  surreally tinged, subjective viewpoints. 

François Ozon has worked with Deneuve more than once himself and here has crafted his own sexual odeyssey with an equally removed turn from his leading lady - the stunning Marine Vacth - who more than lives up to this film's title.

The 17 year old Isabelle (Vacth) is an enigma from start to finish. Beginning in the summer at her family's beach resort she celebrates her birthday and loses her virginity one night to a handsome German-teen who she's made a strong impression on but seldom returns. He later comments to her brother that he's never met a girl like Isabelle, his voice filled with a loose concern, not of his own but for the world. His concern is well placed. In the middle of losing her virginity she imagines herself looking on at her display of love-making - a sign of regret? It certainly seems so at first but later it's clear this imagined apparition comes from her need or want to be desired, even desiring herself in this ultimate narcissistic fantasy.

Ozon divides his film into four segments, four seasons that chronicle Isabelle's life. It's a shock then that a mere 15 minutes in we're already dropped into autumn (the fall being no accident here) and following this young girl into a life as a call girl. No signposts have appeared to suggest such a drastic decision  and as she meets clients in between school classes we're left to wonder her motives for such an experience; the money flows in and yet she was already of privilege and wants for nothing, she is mistreated and yet she keeps returning. This first half of the tale is shrouded in mystery that only lets up slightly within the second half as the family deal with such news in the wake of a revealing tragedy. It's then that Isabelle's sexuality becomes something much more monstrous with Vacth's engulfing presence recalling the nymphette of Kubrick's Lolita

Ironic music is used throughout the film, mostly within sexual montages that highlight almost comically the emotional remove from the psychical acts. Even as the young Isabelle appears to be moving into a relationship with a classmate she terminates it after their first sexual encounter, resuming the ice cold exterior so damaged, unable or unwilling to connect. This seems to be an issue honed in by Ozon here, sex being clinically dissected into two parts and kept separate. This perhaps more evident in the internet age and the accessibility of pornography, something mentioned within the film on several occasions. The search for pleasure, for sexual gratification, can now more than ever be viewed in a light far removed from emotional bonding. The two dangerously regarded as separate entities. 

For such a sexually overt career it's surprising Ozon hasn't taken on prostitution before now with his high work rate. Jeune & Jolie propels ones interest thanks to the assured central performance; a damaged soul, a sexual abyss, a largely unreadable woman whose beauty keeps you fixed on her blank page. It's a largely cold affair but a point immune to criticism, after all, for such a profession inspected here emotions must be left at the door and the money asked upfront. However, while impressive this isn't top tier Ozon and feels strangely less evocative than say Swimming Pool

Monday, 9 December 2013

Frances Ha (2013, Noah Baumbach)


Every so often a film comes along that lifts you off your feet to carry you away on its free spirited saunter. These cinematic bursts of sunshine frequently channel an energy that reflects the time in which they were made, supporting a snapshot of a whole through a singular viewpoint addressed by their protagonists. Frances Ha is one of these joys, a seductive film that breathes the life of and gravitates around the personality of Frances (Greta Gerwig), a 27 year old dancer struggling to navigate through adult life in New York.

Frances is a perfectly good dancer, though not a great one; it's clear in the performances shown that she lacks a certain quality that singles her out in the group. It's sad, really, as she shows an overwhelming amount of heart to accompany her eccentric personality. Being passionate and having some talent isn't enough to get by and when her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) announces she's found another apartment, Frances loses her life partner and security blanket.

Much of the film, co-written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, is concerned with that leap into adult life, that one moment where you become integrated into a path within society whether it be chosen for you or by you. Having to leave things behind is a huge factor of this and a painful one at that; Frances perhaps leant too much on her friend's loving support to make do with her own mediocrity. When the more successful, arguably more driven Sophie makes the first move to leave the nest it's a devastating blow but a necessary learning curve.

This sets off a chain reaction of hardships for the loveable Frances, both financial and interpersonal. As her situation worsens she begins covering up her failures to friends and family with what we would label as little white lies. The film avoids the cliché of a particular strand of comedy where these lies will inevitably bite our protagonist and lead to awkward scenes of revealing truths. That's not a concern here, Frances's need to hide the truth is the cutting issue and seeing her struggle with honest is heartbreaking and all too true. When running into an old friend/acquaintance, who hasn't exaggerated or omitted certain details to hide where they really are in life? This happens all the more with family as expectation are more rife there.

Watching Frances attempting to make a life for herself is a joyous and yet painful experience due to  how quickly we're made to fall in love with her. Gerwig has a wonderful presence on the screen, so earthy and angelic while retaining a rawer quality that prevents a saccharine overload. If you hadn't fallen in love with her in Baumbach's previous film Greenberg you certainly will here. The mixture of Frances's vivacity against the film's melancholic monochrome photography lends an emotionally edgy aspect that increases the impact of certain standout sequences. Nothing this year has quite filled me with the same amount of joy as seeing Frances running through the streets of New York, sporadically bursting into dance as David Bowie's 'Modern Love' pumps over the soundtrack.

Your friends may always be there for you but life won't slow down for you, this is something Frances comes to learn, a universal lesson that we all get to eventually. Baumbach and Gerwig's film looks into what it means to be a young adult in 2013 and finds that the world a rather undefined place. What do most of the other people in this film actually work at? A never ending source of money and a laptop never too far aids these people while Frances knows what she wants and struggles to get it amid this sea of apathy. She's a simple creature with a simple goal, a vulnerable way to be in an ever changing, ever advancing world.

Frances Ha looks from a distance, or on the surface like yet another moody indie flick about arrested youth, but up close viewing experience it's actually lighting in a bottle. Film has a communicative quality that is held over other art forms and sometimes one comes along that speaks to you, says 'whenever you feel hopeless, whenever you feel you're going through this alone, remember that is never the case'. This is one of those films, one as joyous and sad as Frances because she is all of us, the best of us.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Selfish Giant (2013, Clio Barnard)


Based on Oscar Wilde's children story of the same name, this harsh and yet touching drama of two expelled youths' decent into petty thievery is an emotionally arresting experience that often manages to cut through its own oppressive grit with moments of serene poetry.

The Selfish Giant opens with a magical shot of a meadow in the dead of night, the moonlight bouncing off the backs of horses grazing as two young boys ride their own horse through the shot. The horse actually belongs to Swifty, the larger and more endearing of the two, who has sneaked out with his best friend - the frenetically driven Arbor - one can only imagine as an act of youthful defiance. The two come across a small group of men stealing copper bonding from a railway track, they manage to get off with some of the 'loot' and with the help of local scrap dealer, the dangerously dragon-like Kitten (Sean Gilder), they realise there is money to be earned from such a venture. 

With a keen want for money and adventure the boys' home lives both warrant such an extra-curricular activity as their families desperately need it. Swifty's family are introduced to us while in the middle of an electric blackout, the bill hasn't been paid (again) and his many siblings eat cold beans in a harsh winter light. Arbor's situation seems less extreme, as his drug addicted brother brings financial and psychical threat to the household. As their dealings with Kitten increases, not only is the friendship of the two boys tested, but their safety, too, as hardship and adult greed gets concern over the lives of shapeable youth.

The bond between the two boys reminds of Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine; a film that also used a horse to symbolise innocence and friendship. Nearly all of the exchanges between the characters carry an implied threat and danger is sensed lurking behind any Bradford street corner; in its represntation it's hardly too far a leap to compare such an environment to De Sica's post-war torn streets where living is  expensive and survival has rendered life cheap.

The young performers are truly wonderful here, with the motives and emotions of their characters seen registered behind their eyes in the delivery of every line. The friendship between the pure Swifty (Shaun Thomas) and the force of Arbor (Conner Chapman) is apt, too, given the setting of this drama; the serenity of the horses next to the manmade, hazardous power of the electric pylons. 

The Selfish Giant carries with it from the start, the tropes of tragedy, the feeling of an unavoidable loss somewhere down the line. Despite this being rather pronounced what's notably impressive is the way writer/director Clio Barnard manages to cut through and deliver an emotional blow that is expected while not losing impact. Most British dramas are known for their grit and socio-realism, a style that often claims to know The truth apposed to A truth; Barnard's film escapes its brutal construction at times, giving way to a transcending poetry that makes this an undoubtably special inclusion to this national cinema.