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ESCHEWING the straightforward narrative arcs of social realism employed by a Ken Loach or a Mike Leigh, in Bait director Mark Jenkin’s Brechtian approach never lets us forget we’re watching a film.
That sense of confronting material reality is there in the hand-processed images, scratchy and lined and a soundscape that engages yet disturbs.
The dialogue, recorded and then dubbed, imbues the uncomprehending, Pinteresque conversations — clipped and occassionally comic — with an eerie sense of alienation, abetted by moments where the plot runs ahead of itself.
Set in a Cornish fishing village, Bait charts the clash between well-off incomers from London and the local precariat, fishing families struggling to make a living.
The community is divided by economic inequality brought on by the loss of traditional ways of working and living, generating mutual incomprehension and anger.
A well-off London family has bought and gentrified one of the harbourside cottages. They’ve installed a porthole as a window, filled the fridge with prosecco and pasta, bedecked the rooms with fishing buoys and nets and rented out the net loft to tourists who complain at the early morning noise of the fishing boats.
The family — thoughtful mother, smug father, flirtatious daughter and boorish son — is at loggerheads.
The former inhabitant of the cottage is a fisherman who can’t afford to buy a boat. He lays nets on the beach outside the house to catch a few fish which he sells to the local pub for a high price but gives away to local families on the estate where he now lives.
He simmers with barely contained rage at his inability to make a living any more from fishing and adopts a provocative approach to the rich incomers. “You didn’t have to sell us this house,” they tell him. “Didn’t I?” is his sarcastic response.
His family is also divided. His brother still has a boat, though it’s used not for fishing but for coastal cruise trips for drunken tourists. But his brother’s son won’t work on the cruise boat, preferring to struggle like his uncle with the beach nets, though he forms a liaison with the rich family’s daughter.
These characters hit, miss and crash into each other in their houses, on the harbour and in the pub. Collaboration, confrontation, violence and a tragic accident is the shocking outcome in a story of alienation and anger.
Does the ending give hope? Yes and no. The sense is that we’re not a happy country but we might be if we worked equally together.
The question is: do we want to?
Bait is currently on general release. A fuller version of this review is available at Culture Matters, culturematters.org.uk
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