Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2019 4:04 pm 
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An antiqued-format film of Cornish fishermen bucking local gentrification

Tourists rule Cornwall: it's the form of rampant gentrification that can run roughshod over the fragile ecosystem of a small fishing community. And fishing itself is a kind of artisanal food-provision that is endangered constantly by industrial sources. This is the root source of Mark Jenkin's unusual film, shot in black and white with a Bolex cine-camera on 16mm kodak stock, in boxy academy ratio, hand-processed for a rough, flickery look, and so, artisanal in itself. It was the UK's only entry to the Berlinale’s Forum program this year.

The film is edited oddly, experimentally, sometimes evoking early expressionism and sometimes cross-cutting madly with aims of the filmmaker's own. The protagonist is Martin Ward (Edward Rowe), a cove-fishermen currently without a boat. His brother Billy (Martin Ellis) is now using the family vessel profitably for tourist day-trips; Martin is welcome to join, but refuses. He is using a net to cast for bass along the shore and drop a single lobster trap off a shore, providing small catches to a few local customers. His son joins in with him.

The opposing force is experienced in the film in the form of a single family of outsiders to whom Martin and his brother have sold their late father's sea front cottage. They occupy it in summer and rent out parts of it to other tourists, airbnb fashion. Martin is infuriated with everything about them, particularly the way they have tricked out the house with nautical objects and "Ropes and chains like a sex dungeon," as he tells his brother. The growing bone of contention is Martin's insistence on parking his truck near the house as he always did, while now there are parking regulations requiring him to use a public area. Eventually he gets his wheel locked by parking authorities.

His son Neil (Isaac Woodvine) crosses with outsiders differently: he spends the night with their pretty daughter. There are ample pub scenes to give a sense of the younger generation.

None of this adds up to very much yet in terms of conflict. It's simply the inchoate seething resentment on both sides that counts. Jenkin knows the scene, he has strong material, and it's easy to follow, the intense, scratchy images gorgeous and ugly by turns. Jenkin gets a mite to fancy, though, with his cross-cutting at times, such as when he interlaces two arguments second by second between different people at once. It seems almost childishly playful, and distracting from the seriousness of the material, which however admittedly needs the touches of humor and sensuality to avoid over-earnestness.

One thing that works at times is a combination of short cuts to big closeups in staccato rhythm underlined by snatches of tight-lipped one-liners. The interrelation of image, cut, and dialogue in the contrasty imagery makes for a very distinctive mix, almost like a music video - a kind of experimentalism we all know nowadays. But Jenkin's habit of sudden flash-forward images, as when a teenage girl (Chloe Endean) assaults the outsiders with a cue ball and we see her hands getting handcuffed before the event, is another ornamentation that feeds the experimentalism of the film at the cost of its emotional authenticity and clean storytelling. When conflict leads to tragedy, the followup isn't clear, and the line between reality and nightmare imagining becomes hazy. I wanted to love this original and strongly-felt effort, but ultimately got lost in the details.

Peter Bradshaw, at the Berlinale, on the other hand, was very admiring in the Guardian of this proudly English material, giving Bait 4 out of 5 stars, describing its style and elements better than I could, calling it "one of the most arrestingly strange movies in Berlin this year, " "an adventure in zero-budget analogue cinema," and concluding that it's "an experiment – and a successful one." Jessica Kiang's Variety[/I review adds something more: that the look of Jenkin's film is meant to evoke Robert Flaherty and his now out-dated, but deeply evocative fisherman saga [I]Man of Aran. If, she suggests, we can see the rise of digital as "gentrification" of filmmaking, then Jenkin's deligerate archaism is s counter blow to that.

So if you like a retro look, virtual primitivism in cinematic technique, you should probably give Bait a look, and if its authentic knowledge of the Cornwall fisherman environment doesn't communicate itself fully in the storytelling and editing, that's not for lack of energetic trying. As the screening ended, I had the feeling that if I'd seen it projected at a cinema somewhere in Cornwall for some reason, the audience would be carried away and me with them.

Bait, 89 mins., debuted at Berlin in the Forum series Feb. 2019. Reviewed there for by Jessica Kiang and also by Peter Bradshaw for the .

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