Bait (UK 2019)

Bait-image-2

It’s grim in Cornwall

It’s heartening that writer-director-editor Mark Jenkin’s Bait is doing decent business at the UK box office. A low budget, black and white film about Cornish fisherman could easily get swamped by the flotsam from mainstream distributors. What Bait has is a USP (unique selling point) as its ‘low-fi’ Bolex camera approach offers difference to jaded palettes; manna for the bourgeoisie. It is also an excellent film.

One moan first: the film is scored with scratches as if it was an old classic on 16mm that has been in distribution, and maltreated, for decades. These look as if they have been digitally added as they appear in patterns not associated with conventional print blemishes. Apparently these were caused, no doubt intentionally, by the unusual processing materials (including coffee and washing soda) Jenkin used. In my eyes it appeared he was trying to age the look of the print and so enhance the analogue ‘authenticity’ of his monochrome cinematography. In other words, it was an unwanted distraction; unless he was trying to be Brechtian? The obvious post-synching of the sound also supports ‘estrangement’ from the film.

Jenkin has written a Dogme95 style manifesto, ‘Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13’, which ironically appears to be only available on Facebook (which I won’t use). Here is a screenshot from:

Screenshot 2019-09-18 at 10.38.54

Fortunately he hasn’t followed Dogme95 with his approach to composition, and one of the pleasures of the film is the beautiful mise en scene. Unusually there are a number of sequences of montage-editing; another anti-realist technique with Brechtian associations. Overall it struck me as a brilliant debut where the director stretches every sinew to make the film interesting; sometimes he over-reaches himself but there’s no danger of blandness.

I’m not sure what the ‘bait’ of the title is (Ian Mantgani says, “The double-meaning of the title – literal fishing bait and the colloquialism meaning something flagrantly shady”) but the film focuses on the economical difficulties of the traditional fishing industry in Cornwall. Absent landlords arrive at the start to rent out cottages to tourists who want ‘peace and quiet’ whilst the protagonist, Martin (superbly played by comedian Edward Rowe), obstinately sticks to the ‘old ways. His daily routine is shown in realist detail but he also talks to what appears to be the ghost of his dad putting an expressionist mix into the narrative; this is daring and successful. The use of sound is also occasionally anti-realist, for example, objects fall with more weight than they contain, reverberating with their significance rather than simply being caused by molecules of air.

In his Sight & Sound review (September) Jonathan Romney interestingly suggests the film’s form can be compared to comic-book frames and the obviously post-synched dialogue to speech balloons. The framing does use sudden extreme close-ups which is certainly comic-book like. In addition, in some sequences the frames almost appear to be shuffled as inter-cutting between scenes (in the same and different spaces) is very rapid indeed.

There’s no reason why Jenkin’s ‘hand-made’ approach shouldn’t work with other subject matter but, clearly, he was well at home with the difficulties of Cornish fishermen. It’s a fascinating debut.

6 comments

  1. EDF

    Hiya, I work for Early Day Films, the company that produced Bait. Lovely to read positive reviews but a couple of points need correcting; Bait was released this year not 2018 and the director’s name is Mark Jenkin, not Neil! Cheers!

    • nicklacey

      Hi, thanks for the corrections; I took the date from the Sight & Sound review (thought they knew what they were talking about). I wonder who Neil is? Welsh rugby player?

  2. john David hall

    Not too many attendees at the final screening at Cubby Broccoli today, but at least one of them was thinking he had stayed at home and switched on Talking Pictures by mistake. Bait has done good business for a low-key low-tech film, but the working class vs wealthy middle class stereotypes on display reminded me of a Mike Leigh polemic, specifically ‘High Life’ from quite a few years back. The ghastly youngster was called Hugo and his father was utterly spineless; only the mother and daughter had something that might have passed for character. Our hero left his back door open and all his savings on the window ledge in an old biscuit tin marked BOAT.
    I know the working class like to tell you they always used to leave their doors unlocked in the old days, but that is more of a fond reminiscence than how I remember it.
    Masses of style but not much substance. It passed the time amiably enough. You could put it on Talking Pictures now and most people would think it was made in the fifties.

    • nicklacey

      The point about Leigh is interesting but I’m not sure it looks like a Talking Pictures picture. My auntie never locked her doors…

      • john David hall

        Anyway, Talking Pictures has Devil Girl From Mars (1954) on Monday at 07:20. Hazel Court from Masque Of The Red Death. Seems like a better bet to me.

    • Roy Stafford

      High Hopes (1988) was the Mike Leigh film? I don’t remember it too clearly but I was already getting wary of Leigh’s view of social class and it confirmed my fear that he treats charaxters in a very cruel way some time. I haven’t seen Bait yet.

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