★★★★★ - STUFF
- It's hardly a bonus of Covid-19, but with very few films being made available for cinemas to show, there are some unexpected treats finding space on the big screen that might otherwise have gone undistributed and unremarked.
So, as well as welcome repeat runs for Parasite, Knives Out, Jojo Rabbit, Dark Waters and a few other gems from earlier in the year, we can also make room for Bait, which is likely to be about as polarising and nettlesome as anything you have seen, outside of the furthest reaches of a film festival.
The story of Bait is straight-forward enough. We are in Cornwall, on the southwest coast of the British Isles, some decades ago.
Already there is tension between the local fishing community and the cashed-up newcomers from the city, hoping to buy into the myth of the "quaint village", with all its charming and eccentric locals only too happy to welcome them and their money.
Tensions flare soon enough, between fisherman Martin Ward and the newly arrived Leigh family, who have bought the old Ward family home as a weekend retreat. Martin is already feuding with his brother Stephen, who refuses to let him use their late dad's fishing boat for the purpose it was built and is instead making a living taking tourists on day-trips around the harbour.
Put like that, Bait sounds like a simple and unremarkable thing. Tempers will be lost and hopefully found again. Blood might even be spilled. This much we have seen before.
But, trust me, you have never seen a film quite like Bait.
Film-maker Mark Jenkin is a unique voice. He has no interest in the cliches of this much misunderstood area. His characters are gruff, insular, suspicious of strangers and ferociously loyal to family, scratching out a living in this jagged, salt-crusted and astonishingly beautiful corner of the island.
To plant the roots of Bait authentically in this place and time, Jenkin has shot the film – on film – on a vintage Bolex hand-wound camera. He then developed the stock at home, edited it together into a sparse but engrossing whole – and then recorded all dialogue and sound separately. Just as a film-maker working in the early 1970s would have.
On the screen, Bait isn't just a film about a time and a place. With his methods and his equipment, Jenkin has opened a fissure to the past and made Bait as a virtual artefact of another age. Short of finding this film intact in an archive or a time-capsule, Bait could not be more real.
When they're next handing out the awards for "Best Special Effects", I'll be thinking of Bait. Its entire existence is a gorgeous special effect. As with Pablo Larrain's No (2012) and Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool (1969), the medium is an integral part of the message.
Bait is an elegiac piece of work. Like a sculpture that we cannot easily turn away from, its form might be simple enough, but the craft and thought that have gone into its construction are the stuff of genius.
There might not be a big-screen film festival this year, but at least we have this.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Bait is now playing at Light House Cuba!