[THE SELFISH GIANT screens Thursday March 13th at 9:00 pm and Friday March 14th at 7:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Pamela Zoslov
Arbor's only friend, a gentle, chubby boy called Swifty (Shaun
Thomas), is unlucky enough to be one of the many children of “Price
Drop” Fenton, an ill-tempered modern Macawber, forever in debt. The
family's furniture is constantly being repossessed from under them.
It's no wonder the boys are attracted to the illicit trade of
stealing utility cable and selling it to Kitten, who teaches them to
burn off the identifying casings and dye from the ill-gotten wires,
grudgingly paying them for their risky labors with cash.
For Arbor, the “job” is a source not only of money, but of a
new identity. “I'm a proper scrap man, me,” he says proudly,
piloting horse and cart in pursuit of valuable metals. For Swifty,
there's a dual allure. In addition to helping pay his family's debts, he gets
to pursue his passion for horses. When Swifty proves his skill at
handling Kitten's prized harness horse, Diesel, Kitten selects him to
drive the sulky in one of the town's raucous, high-stakes road races.
Arbor, whom Kitten despises, feels left out, and the boys' friendship
is strained. Arbor belittles Swifty's equine ambitions. “What's the
point in a trotting horse?” he scoffs. “They can't pull a cart.”
Although the film is inspired by Wilde, the influence of Dickens
is felt in the exploitation of poor children to perform dirty,
dangerous jobs. “There's some unscrupulous people out there getting
kids to do their dirty work,” says a police officer who questions
Arbor after some kids are spotted burning cable. “That Kitten is
using you,” warns his worried mother, to no avail. Arbor starts
stealing copper from Kitten, which sets in motion events that lead to
Cinematographer Mike Eley uses a muted palette to paint the
rural-industrial beauty of Bradford, West Yorkshire, and the sound
design — note the ominous hum of the overhead power lines
the boys contemplate stealing — is masterful. Barnard, whose first fiction feature this is, has a graceful, intuitive feeling for the lives
and colloquial language of her characters. Toughness and beauty meld
perfectly in this exquisite little film, which resonates on a high
emotional octave. 4 out of 4 stars.
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