The Selfish Giant Screen 18 articles

The Selfish Giant


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  • Given this unflaggingly gray movie's almost tactile atmosphere of decay, neglect, and brutality — Kitten's rough manner with the boys will have you recoiling in horror — there's little chance this can turn out well. Exceedingly well-crafted, the movie sticks disappointingly close to kitchen-sink conventions. One jolt near the end aside, there's little here that matches the formal adventurousness of "The Arbor."

  • If nothing else, Barnard’s film will claim the world record for what we might call the expleted imperative: characters telling each other to “Fuck off you daft [cunt / twat / wanker / etc].” Therein lay a problem, it seemed to me, a slight reductiveness and lack of credibility in its portrayal of working-class lives, overcome to some extent by the energy of the young performances, particularly Connor Chapman...

  • There's no question that, despite its tough subject matter, this is a much safer brand of social realism than most will have expected from Barnard. But bemoaning the fact she has made a more traditional film is to suggest that The Selfish Giant is anything less than a minor triumph. It's been hastily likened to Ken Loach's early films... but a more useful point of comparison would be to imagine an episode of Shameless as directed by the Dardenne brothers.

  • [Barnard's] work with actors is remarkable, esp. the Ritalin kid with his deviousness, hyperactivity and glimmers of a good heart (his childish pleasure when he gets paid is especially touching), but the last half-hour is maudlin and not very interesting, falling back on 'dignified' understatement. Possible best line: "What d'you want me to do, shit Smarties?".

  • The train tracks and power lines still run out here, but at least to the kids whom the system deems have no future, at the present such things are worth more broken and scrapped in piles on horse-drawn carts, while the rest of the world drives past. Barnard teases out those thematic parallels gently, with a nuance that allows us to contemplate such meaning without being overly didactic about the realities of life in this place.

  • Patiently accumulating vivid details, [Barnard] executes a slow boil that culminates in tragedy, yet the movie avoids feeling like a dose of British miserabilism, if only because everybody on-screen (including a host of supporting characters with nicknames like Price Drop) seems so aggressively alive.

  • The subject matter sounds hardscrabble, but The Selfish Giantis deeply tender, one of the most touching movies about friendship between men -- or boys -- I’ve ever seen. This is also the most delicate kind of social realism; it never feels like a screed. Barnard films the landscape matter-of-factly, and she’s open to all its rough, rusty beauty.

  • [Chapman] has a camera-controlling physical swagger, with a dry, peppery wit to his line delivery that draws him instantly level with any adult performer in a scene... There’s nothing scrappy about the filmmaking on display here. Where “The Arbor,” for all its innovation in other departments, retained a certain televisual quality to its construction, “The Selfish Giant” is boldly, broodingly cinematic.

  • It is doubtful that Barnard’s brand of social realism has evolved into an artistic tool of distanciation apropos her experimental work, but the exacting poetry of the film strikes such perfect blows as to frame it as another fairy tale to be read aloud to or, more precisely, projected at adults... In the absence of any apparent formal conceit, Barnard’s parable is still raw enough to wound while its emotional impact could wring tears from metal.

  • Barnard brought a surreal magic to the squalor of The Arbor, blending documentary interview with uncanny lip-sync performance, and while she reins in the formal friskiness here, she retains her feel for perverse splendour.

  • Having chosen to pitch her stall this time directly on the royal road of British art cinema, Barnard nevertheless brings a distinctive poetic spin to her material, making the film as much a study of the porous boundary between town and country as Kes was. There’s a strikingly eerie ruralist magic to the repeated shots of horses standing on horizons at night – Barnard and DP Mike Eley make strong, often stylised use of horizontals...

  • Mike Eley’s gorgeously saturated cinematography helps elevate the boys’ struggle into the realm of the heroic, but it’s the two young stars—one a whirlwind and the other a quiet protector—who make this only-slightly tall tale into something towering.

  • [Chapman and Thomas] deliver surprisingly powerful performances, driving the film forward with a palpable—and at times heart-wrenching—energy that overrides the screenplay’s minor flaws. The physicality of the overgrown Swifty and exceptionally runty Arbor make them a particularly endearing odd couple to watch, and their friendship feels real, from start to tragic finish... The film’s final image completes a full visual circle that is sure to make even the stiffest upper lip quiver with emotion.

  • While the British media have understandably drawn a comparison to Loach’s groundbreaking 1969 British film “Kes,” Barnard is just as much following in the footsteps of François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” [and] Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves”... I advise you to brace yourself; like those films, “The Selfish Giant” may tear your heart out. But the passion and possibility Barnard shows us among forgotten people in a forgotten place are fully worth it.

  • "The Selfish Giant" is easy to admire but difficult to recommend, because its vision of friendship, poverty and desperation is so stark. Written and directed by Clio Barnard, this film about adolescent boys who gather scrap to help their families is based on a fable by Oscar Wilde. But where Wilde's story summons warmly cathartic tears, the tears this film earns are colder and grimmer. Its outcome feels both unfair and inevitable.

  • For all its relentless horrors (and dear Lord does this movie go to some terrible places),The Selfish Giant never feels predictable. Credit the remarkable young actors, as well as Barnard’s observant style: Every moment in this film is alive with possibility, with the chance that everything will go haywire in a new way.

  • Barnard realizes the settings in immersive detail, and she elicits some strikingly convincing performances from her cast; Conner Chapman, playing a boy with an untreated behavioral disorder, delivers one of the scariest performances I've seen from a child actor. The movie takes its title and narrative structure from a children's story by Oscar Wilde; as in the Dardenne brothers’ The Kid With a Bike, the fairy-tale elements bolster the contemporary story with a sense of timelessness.

  • Barnard engages with the harsh socio-economic realities of contemporary Britain—which here recall a Dickensian brutality in contemporary times—yet her vivid eye for detail and love for chiaroscuro produces contrasted and wondrous imagery. Filled with dualisms (nature, junkyard metal; boys, men) The Selfish Giant takes the tone of a fable, warning of the fragility of life.

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