Today, on Dec 26., Examiner.com had the opportunity to see "The Selfish Giant," which is now playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and has our highest recommendation. British filmmaker Clio Barnard best known for her documentary "The Arbor" a poetic portrait of Andrea Dunbar returns with the promising "The Selfish Giant," her first fiction film honored with a prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
The film portrays the story of two penniless adolescents, Arbor (Connor Chapman) a problematic youth suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and his big and soft hearted side kick Swifty (Shaun Thomas) who has a strong passion for horses. After being permanently excluded from school Arbor becomes a full time scrapper and quickly persuades his best mate Swifty to follow his lead. While both understand the business as a way of providing money for their homes, the innocent interests differ, Arbor sees scrapping as an endless pot of gold, while Swifty joins the adventure for the pleasure of riding the old horse that comes with the cart the scraps are mounted on.
Their quest is nonetheless closely monitored by the greedy scrap metal local dealer Kitten (Sean Gilder) who provides work to these cheaper and easy to handle laborers. A gambler himself Kitten soon starts to notice Swifty's gift with horses and decides to take him in as a potential jockey for his gipsy horse races. Arbor's jealousy doesn't take long to kick in and soon his risky maneuvers for obtaining copper start to create a breach in the relationship leading to a heartbreaking finale.
"The Selfish Giant" is an astonishing social-realist drama loosely based on an Oscar Wilde fairy tale set in the poverty stricken Bradford area in the cinematic style of Ken Loach, Shane Meadows and most recently Andrea Arnold. Naturalistic performances (both Chapman and Thomas are non actors) and a subtle camera that journeys between the grey and decaying public houses to the solemn landscape of the Bradford estate with its wild green pastures and luring fog create an organic universe marked by its raw and disturbing tone.
Clio Barnard's strong background in documentary and fine arts, which had heavily influenced "The Arbor" appear to be simmered down for "The Selfish Giant" allowing a more conservative narrative. In a recent interview the british director, while discussing being inspired by a real life scrapper and his relationship to his closest friend, confessed that her intention to merge documentary footage with the fictional footage proved unsuccessful. The film, which does not by any means attempt to tackle a political agenda is nonetheless a sincere depiction of the Bradford estate and reveals the detailed research Barnard did, who comes into the film it seems not only as a director, but as an honest journalist.
"The Selfish Giant" is not by any means an easy film to swallow, its goal not being to please, but rather to awake. It is critical to underline nonetheless that its dense and disturbing progression should not discourage any potential viewer, after all the story offered by talented writer and director Clio Barnard is an amazingly pure tale of friendship, loyalty and love.