Bait (2019)

2020 #9
Mark Jenkin | 89 mins | Blu-ray | 1.33:1 | UK / English | 15

Bait

The past and the present — the old ways and the new — clash head-on in Mark Jenkin’s Bait, both in its storyline and its production.

The former is the tale of a fisherman without a fishing boat: Martin (Edward Rowe) is a Cornishman through-and-through, a lover of his community and resistant to change; but his brother, Steve (Giles King) has turned their boat into a tourist vehicle, and they’ve had to sell their childhood home to well-to-do city-dwellers (played by Simon Shepherd and Mary Woodvine, as the very embodiment of upper-middle-class London-types with the money for a rural second home). As the summer season arrives, and upcountry tourists descend on the small town, flashing their cash, Martin struggles to get by; and the clash between two different worlds comes to a head.

As to the latter (the production method), Jenkin has steeped his film in both older filmmaking methods and the place it was made. It was shot on 16mm black-and-white stock with a wind-up camera, with all the sound post-synced because the camera was too noisy to record on set. All 130 rolls of film were hand-developed by Jenkin in his Cornish studio, with a deliberate degree of what some might call “carelessness” to add authenticity: scratches come from washing the film under a running tap; exposure varies because the film was wound manually, therefore at an inconsistent speed; a “strange sparkle” on one bit of film was caused by leaving the studio door open and pollen blowing onto the drying film (there’s more about tall that in an interview with Jenkin by British Cinematographer). It’s a defiantly hand-crafted and old-fashioned method for making a movie; a way that’s becoming ever rarer thanks to the appealing ease of digital, both to blockbuster and low-budget productions. It’s funny that the only people ‘allowed’ to use film are either your Christopher Nolans — big-name auteurs who make tonnes of money for the studios, so they can do what they want — or your Mark Jenkins — tiny independent artists producing films for a pittance, so they can do it how they want.

Beautiful black and white

Some might consider Jenkin’s method to be unnecessarily pretentious — self-consciously Arty — but it’s actually a wonderful marriage of form and content; the earthy, hand-hewn visuals reflect the film’s themes. It’s not just an exercise in style, either. This would be a worthwhile narrative if told in a more conventional manner, but it would feel less striking and authentic with a glossy digital sheen. Of course, all filmmaking is “technology”, but there’s something about using such old cameras and film stock, developing the footage by hand, post-dubbing the sound, that all feels like The Old Ways, like it’s traditional and handmade, in a way that matches up with Martin’s desires and goals.

Some reviews have compared the end result to silent film, which doesn’t wash for me. The damaged visual quality might initially call to mind a poorly-preserved and unrestored print, which, if one has encountered such a thing at all, is likely to be from a silent film. But the actual feel is more 1950s location-shot social realism, with the themes of everyday rural working life, naturalistic acting and lighting, and post-dubbed dialogue (there’s none of that on your average silent movie, is there?)

Lest you think Jenkin is a one-note polemical storyteller, different points of view are allowed to exist: the upcountry folk aren’t all ‘evil’ (Martin may feel they’re a thorn in his side, but sometimes they’re actually on his side), and not all the locals long for the past (some are happy, or at least resigned, to fitting in and making their way with how things are). These are issues Cornwall has been dealing with for decades — it’s one of the poorest regions of the UK, thanks in part to so much property being bought as holiday homes and only occupied for a few weeks a year. But now is the right time to tell a story like that, because those problems are coming to a head: Brexit is set to be a disaster for Cornwall, because they’re going to lose a lot of EU funding. Will the British government replace it? The Cornish people, who did vote for Brexit, presumably assume so. I think they’ll be lucky.

This is a local pub for local people

Not that Jenkin is directly engaging in the Brexit debate here. In one scene we can overhear it being discussed on the radio, leaving us in no doubt when we are, but this isn’t a commentary on political upheaval. This is a story of normal people and how their lives have been altered by changing times. It may be unquestionably set now, but, as the filmmaking style underlines, the story is fairly timeless; it’s grounded and everyday.

Well, until a shocking event near the end, anyhow. No spoilers, but I have mixed feelings about that plot development. In one sense, it takes away from the feeling that this is an everyday situation that plays out across modern Cornwall; but, in another way, it’s a realisation of all the tensions that have been brewing throughout the film, like it’s almost inevitable that some tragedy would occur. Fortunately, how the film then deals with the aftermath is typically coolheaded and understated. We don’t get to see the immediate fallout (there are some characters we don’t even see again), just what ultimately happens later. In some ways that’s almost too little (for example, we’re not shown how it affects the locals’ relationship with the upcountry folk), but it also lands its overall point.

Bait has mostly been a regional success; regional not just to the UK, but to specific parts of the UK: according to figures published in Sight & Sound (and repeated in the BFI’s booklet accompanying the film’s Blu-ray), a typical movie makes 4.9% of its UK box office in the southwest, but for Bait that’s up at 35%. Hopefully time will see it break out further, because it’s a compelling story, both timely and timeless, uniquely told.

5 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Bait is on Film4 tonight at 11:20pm.

The Independent Monthly Update for June 2016

In? Out? Pretty sure “shake it all about” won the referendum.

(It was a toss up between a Brexit joke and a Game of Thrones one, and only one of those wouldn’t constitute spoilers. Well, depending on your definition of “spoiled”.)


#102 Cop Car (2015)
#102a Independence Day (Special Edition) (1996/1998)
#103 The Revenant (2015)
#104 Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
#105 Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
#106 Spy (Extended Cut) (2015)
#107 Deadpool (2016)
#107a Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
#108 Ip Man 3 (2015), aka Yip Man 3
#109 Steve Jobs (2015)
#110 Fantastic Four (2015)
#111 Barry Lyndon (1975)
#112 Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (1973), aka Иван Васильевич меняет профессию
#113 The Bank Job (2008)
#113a The Present (2014)
#114 The Lobster (2015)
#115 Pan (2015)

.


  • WDYMYHS continues apace with Stanley Kubrick’s 7th film on the IMDb Top 250, Barry Lyndon. It’s getting a 40th anniversary theatrical re-release towards the end of July, so expect a review nearer the time.
  • #1 thing I didn’t quite get round to this month: Zootropolis, aka Zootopia. It’s not out on UK DVD/Blu-ray until the end of July, but I imported it from the US (before 37.4% of the electorate went and knackered the value of the pound).
  • The Bank Job finally carries the number of films I’ve seen from my 2008 ‘50 Unseen’ list past the 20 mark. Ridiculously, last year’s list also passed that marker this month.
  • Independence Day is the first non-main-list film I’ve watched for review this year, and Bambi Meets Godzilla is the first short film.


It’s funny: having passed 100 last month, the whole statistics / how far I’ve got / predictions for the future shebang has been much less on my mind of late (which has been more occupied with writing 100 Favourites posts, because I’m no longer far ahead on them). Nonetheless, here are a couple of observations.

With 14 new feature films watched, June bests last month’s 13 (just), but sits behind all other months of 2016. It’s also not quite as good as last June, which scored 16, but it well surpasses June’s average of 8.25. It’s the 25th consecutive month with over 10 films, too, so that’s nice — still on track for that to hold until this December messes it up, at least.

As ever, the end of June marks the year’s halfway point. With my year-to-date monthly average at 19.2, the obvious forecast places me at 232 by the end of the year, which — in almost the opposite of last year, when these predictions kept proving undervalued — I don’t expect to reach. Taking the average of the last two months as a better guide, that gets me to 196, which seems more plausible. Really, I’m only in the habit of making these predictions from the years when it took me ’til December to reach #100, and so trying to guess if I was going to do it ‘mattered’ — these days, what does it matter? I’ll get where I get.

And on that downbeat note…



The halfway point of the year also means the halfway point of my 100 Favourites. The (alphabetical) first 50 is completed by:



The 13th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A couple of 2015 Oscar contenders caught my attention this month, and The Revenant or Steve Jobs would certainly be a worthier pick… but I called this category “favourite” rather than “best” for a reason, and dammit if I didn’t enjoy Deadpool more than a man of my age (i.e. older than teenage) reasonably should.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I didn’t love every film I watched this month, but I did at least like the vast majority. Some may think last year’s much maligned Fantastic Four reboot would be a shoo-in here, but no, I quite liked it. So the only bad film this month — and therefore an easy ‘victor’ in this category — was unnecessary sequel Beverly Hills Cop III.

Best Moulin Rouge Rip-Off of the Month
Smells Like Teen Spirit in Pan. (Sorry if I’ve now spoiled that surprise for you.)

Most Unexpected Appearance by a Eurovision Song Contest Entrant… Ever
The word “most” feels a bit redundant here — how many Eurovision entrants have ever turned up in movies? Well, aside from Abba. Anyway, I’d never seen a Paul Feig film before, but he earns a shed-ton of bonus points (enough to wipe out Ghostbusters? We’ll see) for not only featuring Ukraine’s 2007 submission by Verka Serdyuchka in Spy, but for setting an action sequence to it too.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A close one this time, but it ended with victory for a 100 Favourites entry, for the second month in a row: my generation’s Star Wars, the enduringly popular Jurassic Park.


Historically, July is my lowest-totalling month, and the only month where I’ve ever failed to watch a single new film (in 2009). 2016’s iteration should do better than that, at least.