This review was originally published as part of our Berlinale festival coverage on 11/02/2019.
Gentrification is the enemy in Bait, Mark Jenkin’s black and white drama set on Cornwall’s fishing coast and the UK’s only entry to the Berlinale’s Forum programme this year. The philosophical and personal conflict between the local fishing industry and posh holiday homeowners brews in a stifling, terse atmosphere, switching instantaneously between passive aggression and direct attacks. Some confrontations are entirely unsubtle, but the righteous outrage captured by Jenkin’s script and the unshowy performances keeps stakes realistic – therefore, incredibly high. When a summer resident responds to a local fisherman’s plea for his livelihood with the callous observation that they must earn a living as well, the false equivalency stings.
Unsurprisingly, this film is gorgeous to look at. Cornwall – a stunning region regardless – takes on a haunting, severe beauty when shot on monochrome film. The rapid, rhythmic editing is the film’s standout quality. Meticulously ordered cuts jump between faces, fishing equipment, and the Cornish coastline with unsettling rapidity, engrossing viewers in the most mundane exchanges and tasks. A standout scene sees two separate conversations spliced together as the camera rapidly jumps between all participants while maintaining the coherence of each topic; the resulting scene’s humour and verbal warfare captivate. With some swiftly-changing shots ever-so-slightly out of chronological order, tension quickly builds throughout the film before the full impact of these seemingly small conflicts is brutally released. Where the shots are longer, the pacing is extraordinarily measured – sometimes unbearably slow – adding to the oppressive atmosphere and simmering animosities.
Bait is firmly rooted in its time and place but its futile rage in the face of changing cultures is relatable outside a modern Cornish village. Avoiding caricature and sentimentality, its stunning scenery and steady rhythms build a tense, engrossing piece that oozes outrage and sympathy, both for and on behalf of its subjects.
CAST: Edward Rowe, Simon Sheperd, Mary Woodvine, Giles King, Isaac Woodvine
DIRECTOR: Mark Jenkin
WRITER: Mark Jenkin
SYNOPSIS: A Cornish fisherman sees his way of life changing when summertime tourists gentrify his coastal town