Mark Jenkin emerges as a distinctive new voice in British filmmaking with this innovatively shot and edited melodrama concerned with the class tensions bubbling over between the skint locals and the wealthy holidaymakers in a Cornwall fishing village
In more ways than one, the traditional and the contemporary rub up against one another in Mark Jenkin’s strange and hypnotic Bait. The setting is a fishing village somewhere in Cornwall, but there’s not a lot of fishing going on. The boat with which the bullish, monosyllabic Martin (Edward Rowe) once made his livelihood is now operated by his brother (Giles King) to ferry tourists on booze cruises. Martin’s family home by the harbour, meanwhile, is now owned by a smug couple from London who’ve festooned its walls with nautical paraphernalia and run it as a B&B for well-monied types who flood the village in the holiday season. Martin barely scrambles a living by fishing from the shore and selling his meagre catches of bass to the local gastropub, squirrelling away the few cash-in-hand notes he gets in an old biscuit tin labelled ‘Boat’.
Martin is, to say the least, angry with his lot. He stomps around town like Godzilla about to trample Tokyo, the cacophonous sound design suggesting his footsteps are just as thunderous. Jenkin is pretty apoplectic too, building up Sergei Eisenstein-esque juxtapositions of the posh holidayers' braying faces with rapidly-edited signifiers of their comfortable lifestyles: their fridges filled with champagne, or the cracking shells of lobsters that one of the yahs poached from Martin’s lobster pot. The whole film, in fact, takes on the film grammar of a Soviet silent movie. Close-ups of clenched fists and squinting eyes tell us what characters are thinking, not that the flinty dialogue, which is roughly post-synced on to the soundtrack, is in any way subtle.
As well as suggesting Eisenstein and co, the mosaic editing is peppered with ruptures in time as well as space that call to mind the mysterious fractured narratives of the great Nicolas Roeg. We’ll suddenly find ourselves flashing-forward to images of some of the brutality to come, as if the violence that's continually threatening to bubble over in every scene is being sensed by the characters subconsciously.
Shot on black and white 16mm and developed by hand, the film looks battered and decayed, like it could have been dredged up from the depths with Martin’s catch of the day. The result is a film that’s both a celebration of community traditions and a triumph of old-school filmmaking. At the same time, these ancient techniques are used in the service of exploring issues that couldn’t be more current: the disenfranchisement of working-class people and communities up and down these islands. Even before the nauseating tones of Nigel Farage wafts from a kitchen radio, it’s clear Bait is the UK’s first Brexit movie.
Bait had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival
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