Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Stream Clio Barnard's THE SELFISH GIANT -- which is even better than you've heard

A movie, the power of which acumulates into something approaching tragedy -- not in the classic rendition of hubris and great men brought low, but in the even deeper experience of characters like us, who possess possibilities, being robbed of them and finally of an entire society sinking unnecessarily into the chasm -- THE SELFISH GIANT is British filmmaker Clio Barnard's follow-up to her unusual The Arbor. It is, first to last, a marvelous, engrossing, enlightening piece of work. Said to be inspired by Oscar Wilde's children's tale of the same name, though I defy you to connect all the dots that led from the story to the movie (doesn't matter, for I believe the spirit of the story is captured by the film), Barnard tells the tale of two young chums, both with problems, physical and/or behavioral, trying to make a go of it in a highly depressed area of Britain.

The writer/director's work here (Ms Barnard is shown at left) is quite unlike that of  The Arbor,  with its layers of irony and distancing. Instead, she has chosen to tell the tale from the viewpoint of the two boys, and from her screen newcomers, she has drawn the kind of near-perfect performances you don't often see, even from adult Oscar winners, let alone kids like these. There is not a false moment in either of their work, and if you might have a question about a bit else that goes on here (the confession/ apology from the film's "giant," a scrap metal dealer played very well by Sean Gilder, you won't be able to find fault with the two boys, played magnificently by Connor Chapman (below, left) and Shaun Thomas (below, right).

Mr. Chapman, in particular, is amazing as Arbor (odd name for a boy, but it does call to mind Ms Barnard's last film): tow-headed, small, scrappy, smart and asthmatic, his energy level is as enormous as it is put generally to ill use. He's always finding ways to scam. But, then, what else is available to poor kids in this depressed economic environment?

As his pal Swifty, young Mr. Thomas is equally fine. Slower than Arbor in nearly all ways, his innate kindness always shines forth. His love for and understanding of horses proves a saving grace, as that scrap metal dealer also deals in trotting races and ends up using Swifty as his jockey.

The Gilder character's preference for Swifty over Arbor also leads to understandable jealousy which finally takes form in action, leading to a truly awful consequence. The compact film, just 90 minutes in length, is psychologically, sociologically and economically sound, and it is formed so cunningly that we follow it as we would a suspense drama.

The Selfish Giant is also a beautiful film in its way. The countryside is hardly lush, yet we experience, as do the boys, the joy of being outside in it and away from the family problems -- drugs, alcohol, abuse -- that both kids endure.

Normally I worry about over-praising certain films, but I don't think this could even be a problem here -- so right in all regards is Ms Barnard's approach and execution. This is a small film that never tries to be any more than it is. But what it is turns out to be extraordinary.

At the end we're left with the question: How do we make this sort of thing not happen? There are ways. Time to get started. (If only the world had much time left before climate change begins eradicating us all.)

The Selfish Giant -- from Sundance Selects and Protagonist Pictures -- out now on DVD, is also streamable via Netflix streaming.  (If you get the DVD, as I did -- before I knew the film was streamable -- watch the Bonus features. These will add even more to your understanding and enjoyment.)

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