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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `The Selfish Giant' is the sort of film that the British excel in, 5 Nov. 2013
This review is from: The Selfish Giant [DVD] (DVD)
`The Selfish Giant' is British filmmaker Clio Barnard's new film, set on the same Bradford estate that featured in her debut `The Arbor'. Swifty (Shaun Thomas) and Arbor (Conner Chapman) are two thirteen year old boys, best friends who always seem to be upto something they shouldn't be in. But theirs is not merely a selfish path of youthful gratification, they know their parents struggles and want to improve their lives.

Victims of their circumstances, expelled from school and lacking a purpose in life, the boys drift aimlessly down a dangerous path. The boys hit upon a scrap metal scam, stealing copper cables left on a railway line by some just as untrustworthy individuals. They soon embark on trying to make a living from scrap metal, twinned with a fascination for horses. Swifty in particular has a gift with horses, and feels even more at home with them then he does with Arbor. He's the more sensitive and innocent of the two, Arbor's behavioural problems (ADHD) and big mouth tends to land them both in trouble.

The boys start to work for a local scrap-dealer named Kitten (Sean Gilder). Kitten shows no qualms about exploiting the boys' willingness to earn money, encouraging them to rent his horse and cart from him in order to collect scrap metal from sources that aren't legal. Kitten also runs an illegal horse-and-cart race, shown in one of the standout scenes, and he wastes no time in employing Swifty as a jockey. Barnard makes a subtle comment on child exploitation, but far more on the world commodities boom which has led to many people taking huge risks where copper has become the new gold. It also illustrates the waste that exists in society , plus how an entrepreneurial spirit can make money out of anything.

`The Selfish Giant' is the sort of film that the British excel in, and there is a point where you do get tired of yet another film about how grim it is up North. But you cannot fault the film, and if anything its nowhere near as bleak as you'd have imagined. First-timers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas are exceptional, as are the whole cast who give the whole film a naturalistic feel.

There's clearly a lot of anger in this film concerning the way society has let down these boys and forgotten about these communities. Barnard doesn't pull any punches but there is a surprising level of compassion and grace from the adults which really pulls on your emotions. For all the hardships they've suffered there's still something inside them which burns through their grim reality to reveal what it really takes to be an adult and a parent. The final moments of the film are practically dialogue-free, but you won't find a more powerful sequence all year.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Apr 2014 18:54:36 BDT
Jenn. says:
I enjoyed this review, which is enlightening and depicts the rawness of the lives of the characters.
The only perspective I would disagree with, is that the scrap dealers are wholly exploitative. This is a tough world for all, and they do see potential in Swifty's feel for horses. You could say he was exploited, or you could say he was being given an opportunity to feel wanted and useful - to shine. Sadly, he wasn't able to shine at all.
Yet, as the poor boy's life was cut short, I couldn't help thinking that it is very hard to emerge from this level of poverty and lack of positive role model and of education. They took 'opportunities' where they were presented. Yet in a landscape as harsh as this is, was it really possible for them to emerge with anything that would see them moving to anything radically different? I could only see them moving to prison: a life of harsh incarceration - what they were accustomed to, after all.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Apr 2014 13:04:38 BDT
Thank you for your comments, theres a fine line between exploitation and giving someone a chance. You may be right, the scrap merchant did give him a chance, you assume he's exploiting the kid, but then its easy to pigeonhole someone. We assume the scrap merchant would hide the truth at the end, but surprisingly he gave himself in, as it was the right thing to do. Its rare you see this in films, people assume humanity gets lost when faced with the margins of life. He could well have been a good role model for the kid, which unless you are really motivated is the only way out for the poor and disenfranchised. I come from a poor background, but i was lucky enough to have a stable family structure, so a way out was possible. Its too easy to judge people on the margins and say 'well its their own fault', but the answer is never that easy.
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