Home » Film Festivals » ‘Bait’ Review: Dir. Mark Jenkins (2019) [EIFF]

‘Bait’ Review: Dir. Mark Jenkins (2019) [EIFF]

by Awais Irfan

Making his feature debut on a low-budget, shooting in black-and-white on 16mm, Mark Jenkins’ minimalistic Bait sets Cornwall as the backdrop for one of the year’s best films.

Martin Ward (Edward Rowe) is a Cornwall local in the dying trade of fishing; his family home has been transformed into a modern Airbnb, run by wealthy tourists that scoff at the village’s traditions – which is quickly losing its culture and becoming a hot-pocket for travellers. His brother, Steven (Giles King), has succumbed to the times and turned his boat into a tourist attraction – offering 30-minute trips for holiday-goers – something Martin refuses to do. Trying to catch whatever bait he can to keep him ticking away, he finds his resentment towards the touristy Cornwall – and those making it so – at a tipping point when his serene life goes awry as a result.

A conversation cannot be had about Bait without first discussing the fascinating way Jenkins has decided to tell the story; shot on a Bolex camera in 16mm and black-and-white and hand processed by the director himself, it feels like something from a bygone era of cinema that someone stumbled upon accidentally. It’s a time capsule of a film, with the old-school ADR work and soundscape complimenting the grainy, rugged visuals to give the whole film a very dated appeal – despite very obviously being set in the modern day, flashing logos like O’Neill and Apple to constantly remind us. It works well in adding to the examination of gentrification that permeates the narrative – Rowe’s towering, bearded Ward las a man of tradition fighting to preserve his village’s old-fashioned sensibilities: a traditionalist, less is more film in the modern-age of blockbusters and cinema feeling the need to be extravagant, loud and chaotic.

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The clash of the postmodern aesthetic with the contemporary setting echoes the conflicts and tensions that boil within the narrative itself; the film does a superb job of setting up Ward’s concerns with the Leigh’s without it ever feeling too contrived. Jenkins’ writing and direction is so simplistic that it breathes genuine authenticity into the world of this little village – with a heavy focus on utilising actual locals to star in the film – to the point that the film almost takes a life of its own, brimming with subplots and people and relations – in a very soap-esque way but also as if we’re just bystanders watching a tactile place just exist in it all its sprawling complexity. Bait can suffer from feeling a little unfocused and melodramatic as a result but the way that Jenkins captures life in such a seemingly raw, almost pervasive manner is nothing short of exquisite.

The film has so much to say on gentrification, operating as quite an intriguing social-realist commentary on class and tradition as opposed to modernism. Jenkins keeps Ward’s rage silent and expressionless, depicting theme and ideology through Rowe’s impeccably timed lead performance. It’s a flinty, tattered piece that is intrinsically compelling by design, filmed in such an audacious and unexpected manner with no real backpedaling on message either. Bait is utterly engrossing from the first frame to the last, telling the story in a fragmented manner that, once you figure out what’s going on, is marvellously exciting to watch. It’s so personal and intimate that it feels like the kind of film we shouldn’t be watching, akin to a home video of sorts that someone fished out on tape from some antique bin in a charity shop and decided to share the goods with the world. Simply put: it’s the work of a craftsman and unlike anything you’ve seen before – an utterly exquisite, compelling and creatively charged drama about fishermen in Cornwall.

Bait was reviewed at the 2019 EIFF.

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