I AM GOLDEN KAREN is a coming-of-age story of Thaawa, a Karen refugee in search of his identity as a migrant in Thailand. In between puberty and adulthood, he nurtures a strong desire to return to his motherland, Karen State, Burma.
An official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, The Selfish Giant is a contemporary fable about 13 year old Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrap dealer. Wandering their town with just a horse and a cart, they begin collecting scrap metal for him. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten - keen to impress him and make some money. However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling hurt and excluded, driving a wedge between the boys. As Arbor becomes increasingly greedy and exploitative, tensions build, leading to a tragic event that transforms them all.Written by
This is a formal interview under caution. Do you understand that, Fenton? Hey, do you understand?
A witness saw two youths burning railway or communications cable.
Michelle 'Shelly' Fenton:
That's nowt to do with him.
Cable theft is a very serious crime, Mrs. Fenton. Trespass on the railway is £1,000 fine.
I ain't been on railway.
Vandalism, endangering lives, maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Michelle 'Shelly' Fenton:
He's just a kid. He ain't nicked no cable. You're looking at wrong place.
He is, as you say, Mrs. Fenton, a minor. ...
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It is a very tough watch even though it is very well shot and acted
It is just over a decade ago that by chance I watched Clio Barnard's first short film Lambeth Marsh; by intention or by chance since then I have seen her other works although I was a little late coming to The Selfish Giant. Although I had some problems with her early shorts, her last film and previous short both were very strong and I felt sure she could continue in that vein. As a story teller she delivers really well here with a film that is savaging depressing but yet realistic and convincing. The plot sees two boys, the fast-talking Arbor and the slower but kinder Swifty; the two are friends and have in common that their home lives are a mess with chaos and poverty being common themes. Expelled from school for yet another fight, Arbor leads the two to get into the market for recovered tat – with stolen copper cabling being a particularly lucrative line of business. As they deal with scrap merchant Kitten, Arbor aspires to his money while Swifty shows a natural aptitude towards Diesel, the yard horse that Kitten also races.
The basic story here doesn't exactly rip along and although it does have some bigger moments and revelations, it is very much about putting us into this world and letting us experience it. This is very much in the traditional mould of British kitchen-sink drama, although in this film if there was a traditional kitchen sink, no doubt Arbor would have had it down the tatters with half a chance. This world is one of few options where everyone is out for themselves and characters stripping metal like Bubs in The Wire, although here it is to just pay the installments for a sofa (which has already been sold on to get cash). The story makes this world convincing and depressing although at the same time it does not allow us to be turned off by the characters. This is quite the feat because in the real world the sight of Arbor and Swifty coming would have you keeping an eye on your car and assuming the worst till they are gone. It is to the film's credit that here we do not dislike them although we hate their circumstance. The impact of poverty and their "survival" home life is brutally portrayed and we do care for these ratty broken characters throughout the film.
The downside of the approach of the film is that I didn't think that we got a particularly strong ending so much as just let life go on, such as it is; other than this though the film is as engaging as it is bleak. The greatest part of the film is that the two child actors are great. I hope Chapman is not like this in real life but he utterly convinces as a child brought up in the world of swearing impatience and need. He grabs the attention but Thomas is equally good as a more sensitive boy who frankly isn't cut out for this place and he brings out his tiredness mostly as well as lighting up well whenever kindness is his to give or interest in him is expressed. The adult supporting cast are roundly good too, but these two are the whole film. Barnard's camera mixes distant still shots through fog and more a mobile camera moving in and around the characters in a way that puts us right in the middle of the action.
It is a very accomplished film but please don't make the mistake of assuming that because it is praised that it must be a "good" watch, because it is really a very difficult one. The bleakness and realism of this world is relentless and the nature of telling puts us right in the middle of it while the fine performances make us feel for the characters while hating their situation. It is a very tough piece of British social realism, but it is still a very well made film with it.
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