We are now three years on from the United Kingdom’s European Union referendum, and despite our new Prime Minister’s recent rhetoric, parliament looks no closer to finding a solution to the “Brexit deadlock”.
Whatever the final answer to what our departure may or may not look like, it is apparent that it will not be the end of the country’s current societal issues. The “Brexit” vote will undoubtedly be an issue with consequences effecting generations to follow, with tensions between various sections of society increasing by the day. The issue has become inescapable, everybody has an opinion; families and workplaces are divided.
This deep divide has been brewing for decades, with the referendum seen as many as the natural result of years of neglect towards Britain’s working class. Since Margaret Thatcher set out her radical economic programme in the Eighties, the country has undergone mass societal change. Industries and communities of old have gone, some replaced but others not. Successive governments, despite their differences, have largely pursued similar policies when it comes to liberal trade policy. Capitalism generates economic growth, and if we can generate more wealth it will be for the benefit of us all.
For many people though, like Martin Ward - whose rugged face embodies the spirit of Bait, there has been no benefit. As the wealthy have got wealthier, the upper classes have asset-stripped old communities and have used them to generate profits which they then export back home, rather than reinvest into a cyclical community economy. Seaside cottages that homed local families are now let out as Airbnb style apartments. Local pubs are now owned by national chains that pay minimum wage and close them in the Winter to cut costs. Bait takes place in a Cornwall fishing village but its story could have been told in any number of Britain’s neglected communities, many who voted Leave in 2016.
For the workers like Martin who experience first hand the changing of their communities beyond what they once recognised, the opportunities and choices become increasingly limited. From the very beginning of Bait there is a pessimistic sense of doom and inevitably from which Martin cannot escape. Whatever his feelings and reservations about change, he has no choice but to adapt. His stubborn refusal sees him continue to attempt to make money from fishing, after falling out with his brother who has capitalised on the new opportunities of modern culture by transforming his old fishing business into a boat-for-hire. In one scene Martin berates him for allowing a group of young men on a stag do - one dressed as a giant inflatable penis - on his boat, “father would be spinning in his grave”.
As Martin attempts to get his fishing venture off the ground, struggling to bring in more than a handful of fish each day, a series of incidents occur in the community as tension escalates. The film cuts between various events, past, present and future in a way that foreshadows certain parts of the story and helps generate suspense. Like the brutally violent Sam Peckinpah classic Straw Dogs, from the very start there is a brewing dark sense of violence that hangs over the community. It feels like events are leading to a boiling point with real, dangerous consequences for those involved.
Some of the film’s strongest sequences, such as the tense mid-point altercation between Martin and Hugo - the son of a couple Martin is embroiled in a bitter feud with, combine the films stark photography and use of extreme close-ups with editing to build a feeling of uneasinesses and an atmosphere that seems ready to explode at any moment. This type of editing feels reminiscent of early Soviet propaganda films, or the work of Maya Deren - whose surreal films very successfully generate a visceral feeling of terror.
Mark Jenkin’s decision to shoot the film on 16mm black and white film stock adds a certain feel of personal authenticity to the film, appropriate given its commentary on identity and sense of being. Little touches like its at times out of sync audio and grainy frames from Jenkin’s handling and editing of the film himself work together to create the sense that you are watching a product of hard work and love that you can not help but admire.
With this the film largely opts for a cinema vérité style that gives the sense of being a documentary rather than a formal film constructed through blocking and mis-en-scène. During certain sequences this left me wondering how the film could have looked had it taken a more formal approach with its cinematography and with greater use of a score throughout.
Coming in at just under an hour and a half, Bait is a brisk film that spares us of any excess when it comes to its direct storytelling. The characters from the film feel as though they are the embodiment of feelings and forces, caricatures of the times that we live in. Communities and groups of people, rather than individuals themselves. Placing Martin as the film’s central character who acts and responds according to the environment and the events, Jenkin chooses to portray his story so that it offers little in the way of answers or redemption. Bait is a film that feels at times close to a horror, here are characters who have lost and will continue to lose. Any reprieve is just that in the grand scheme of things.
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The director of this year's brilliantly original British film Bait joined me to talk about his handcrafted film, his filmmaking process and the current state of cinema.