Bait

 

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A film that puts Cornwall on the map in a truly unique way.

 

Bait
  

It could be thought that my rating for this film is too generous, but it is no less possible that it is too harsh. Whatever one makes if it, Bait is a work which, for all its echoes of cinema past, emerges as memorably individual. It is a first fully-fledged feature by the Cornish-based director Mark Jenkin who also wrote it and, most importantly, photographed it. The film deals with a contemporary issue in that it portrays a fishing village in Cornwall subject to increased gentrification as outsiders buy up property and provide lettings for tourists. This conflict is given a personal basis through the antagonism that has developed between the Ward brothers. Following their father’s death, Martin (Edward Rowe) sticks to the family tradition of fishing, but he is now driven to save up to buy his own boat because his brother Steven (Giles King) is using their late father’s old craft to take tourists on cruises.

 

The former family home has been sold to outsiders, Mr & Mrs Leigh (Simon Shepherd and Mary Woodvine), and Martin’s distaste for their presence is aggravated by disputes with them over a parking place. There is also a further personal aspect to the tensions between the locals and the outsiders when Martin’s nephew, Neil (Isaac Woodvine), has an affair with the Leigh’s teenage daughter Katie (Georgia Ellery). This arouses strong disapproval from her brother Hugo (Jowan Jacobs) whose behaviour has already justifiably angered Martin.

 

Despite the location shooting, Bait might have been a rural drama lacking in memorability, but Jenkin’s approach makes it a unique experience. He has opted to shoot it in black and white on 16mm Kodak stock and then to process it in such a personal and idiosyncratic way that it has been described as a handcrafted feature film. The result seen in the ratio found in early cinema is a film of stunning imagery, sharp-edged and beautiful, and a reminder in this digital age of the superiority of film. The look of it combined with the stress on the work of fisher folk puts one in mind of such silent classics as John Grierson’s Drifters (1929) while certain images including the use of close-ups recall the early work of Eisenstein. A later period of cinema is brought to mind too: the late 1959s and early 1960s saw Britain’s ‘Free Cinema’ movement making films about the working classes and the establishment of the French New Wave was a precursor of the wider and sometime baffling use of images which proved to be either flashbacks representing memories or flash-forwards hinting at scenes yet to come.

 

Jenkin seems to be echoing all of these elements, but he makes the work his own with a soundtrack for which the dialogue was post-synched and with such strong, precise editing that it is no surprise when the end credits reveal that he took on the additional role of editor. Jenkin gives the impression of having absolute confidence in what he is doing and he certainly rivets attention. That is not to say, however, that his judgment is always right: some of the inserted shots (often glimpses of the past or of the future) confuse, the narrative itself could sometimes be clearer and at times the stylisation simply fails to work. One scene featuring two intercut conversations in the same space seems unduly self-conscious. Then, more seriously, we have late on some scenes which play out without dialogue in a prolonged sequence linked to events concerned with a theft from a lobster pot. This sequence involves sustained intercutting between three distinct locations and feels sufficiently heavy-handed to verge on the ludicrous. Furthermore, Jenkin’s special look for the film also involves making scratches and spots visible from time to time to suggest ancient film stock and that seems quite inappropriate for a work set in the present day.

 

Edward Rowe has real presence as Martin, an aspect set up by the film’s opening scene, and many of the local figures have a strong sense of authenticity (not least some of the local women). As for Mr and Mrs Leigh, the writing manages to stop well short of the extreme caricature that has sometimes weakened the more upper class figures in films by Mike Leigh. However, it is Jenkin’s highly individual filmmaking skills which are the most arresting feature here: for some viewers Bait will prove too unorthodox for the film to appeal and for yet others great admiration for certain aspects of it will be balanced by doubts over the less successful elements. But, even if it should be the case that Bait proves to be the apex of Jenkin’s achievements, I feel that he has shown himself capable of creating a work that will merit a mention in any history of British cinema. Film credits often come up with a phrase that hardly seems to be earned, but with Bait, whether you warm to it or not, there is no denying that it deserves the description “A Mark Jenkin film".

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine, Giles King, Simon Shepherd, Chloe Endean, Janet Thirlaway, Isaac Woodvine, Martin Ellis, Jowan Jacobs, Georgia Ellery, Molly Hawkins, Stacey Guthrie.

 

Dir Mark Jenkin, Pro Kate Byers and Linn Waite, Screenplay Mark Jenkin, Ph Mark Jenkin, Pro Des Mae Voogd, Ed Mark Jenkin, Costumes Maria McEwan.

 

Early Day Films/School of Film and Television/Falmouth University-BFI Distribution.
89 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 30 August 2019. Cert. 15.