- Emma Simmonds
- 20 June 2019
EIFF 2019: Mark Jenkin is at the helm of a riveting and stylistically audacious class warfare drama
A principled fisherman tangles with down-from-London types in this leftfield take on class warfare from writer-director Mark Jenkin. Aping silent cinema in its aesthetic and intensity, it turns the mounting tensions of a Cornish fishing village into riveting dramatic fodder.
Bait finds Martin Ward (Edward Rowe) on a quest to restore his family's fortunes, aided by his nephew Neil (Isaac Woodvine). This boat-less fisherman has been catching fish any which way he can. He's seen his childhood home sold to the affluent Leighs – played by Mary Woodvine and Simon Shepherd – who inhabit it for just two months a year and have bought up an entire street for rentals. In his anti-tourist, change-resistant stance, Martin is at odds with his brother Steven (Giles King) who has repurposed the family vessel for coastal cruises.
A man of few words and fine facial hair, in his isolation and righteous fury Martin is straight out of a western, making the smug Leighs the genteel invaders. Bringing with them parking restrictions, Waitrose goodies and folk like them, they're horribly plausible and enjoyably irritating. With its stripped-back story ripped from newspaper articles on second homeowner entitlement, it's juicy, soap opera-style material and there's humour in the awkward interactions and bemused reactions, as well as the locals' salty banter.
Shot in black-and-white using a 16mm clockwork Bolex camera and processed by hand, Bait has the look and feel of a labour of love. Using masterfully edited montage, Jenkin shows how the elements and individuals rub uneasily up against one another, and gives symbolic clout to the most mundane of objects and tasks; an expensive shop being casually unpacked is crosscut with Martin's dogged attempts to catch precious few fish. Stormy stares are lent further impact by gloomy, grainy visuals that crackle with imperfections, while the ominous air that pervades is cemented by glimpses of a doom-filled future.
Jenkin is not the only modern director to utilise such arcane tactics (Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin is the most prominent filmmaker currently favouring the silent era format) and his film's pertinent, everyday subject matter is lent cinematic stature by the wonderfully perverse approach. By harnessing the tools of the past, Jenkin gives real weight to the problems of the present.
Screening on Fri 21 and Sun 23 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019. Selected release from Fri 30 Aug.