Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Bait – an unmissable quirky morality tale in which the rich steal what they cannot buy while the displaced locals flail around unable to take back control (QFT from Friday 6 September)

Bait is a beautiful and somewhat quirky tale about the raw interface of new money taking advantage of old in a Cornwall fishing village. Diminishing fishing stocks have combined with the spending power of wealthy folks from the south east of England who buy over property. Tourism and gentrification sits awkwardly with the struggling fishing industry which isn’t universally ready to diversify.

Quirky is normally a word that should set off alarm bells in film reviews. In this case, we’re talking about a 4:3 aspect ratio, 16mm black and white film which has been deliberately aged and scratched to make it look like it’s had a long and happy life being spooled through projectors. The dubbed sound is deliberately tinny, accentuating the sound of boat motors and vehicle engines. Despite the vintage look and sound of the film, and despite the moody, curt dialogue, writer/director Mark Jenkin tells a thoroughly modern story, with some very modern cuts.

The key player is Martin who fishes from the shore rather than join his brother in taking stag parties and tourists out for short sea trips in the family fishing boat. Edward Rowe is gruff, burly and quite menacing, yet with a keen sense of justice (particularly if it’s on his terms). He takes on his nephew Neil (Isaac Woodvine), mostly to wind up his brother. The lad is more interested one of the lasses, Katie (Georgia Ellery) who’s staying in the village for the summer, living in his family’s old home, now tastelessly modernised with nautical trimmings.

This opens up a tectonic plate of disloyalty between the two tribes. The next tension comes when her posh brother Hugo (Jowan Jacobs) cheekily dons a snorkel and tried to find the very fish that the local nets are trying to catch. Add in a poorly parked van, and you end up with a pot-boiler that could cook a lobster until it’s tender.

The sea with its patterned waves and Jenkin’s close-ups almost becomes another character. Barmaid Wenna spouts truth with wonderful turns of phrase: just hope you’re not sipping a glass of chilled prosecco when she utters the line about plums. A real gem amongst a great cast, played by Chloe Endean, Wenna embodies the young heart of the fishing village: feisty, objective, and quite adaptable.

Bait becomes a morality tale – visually similar to something Ingmar Bergman might have directed – that suggests human nature is precarious, and the blow-ins are too rich and slow to realise they’re doing nothing to stop the deadly escalation. The minor and mundane – knotting the net on a lobster pot, or changing the local pub’s pool table rules – become scenes of beauty and acts of conflict.

The fault lines in this village community may well mirror greater fractures in the UK at present. But this film can stand on its own two feet without everything needing to be given a Brexit crutch.

The nearly silent finish befits the novel form that Bait takes. A splendid film that surprises and delights throughout its 89 minutes. Not to be missed when it opens at Queen’s Film Theatre on Friday 6 September.

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