I love films that gradually sneak up on you, films that effortlessly establish an engaging world without an overarching conflict before developing into something possessing immense emotional weight. The necessary balance to achieve this kind of affecting social realism must be difficult to attain, but it’s on full display in Clio Barnard’s surprisingly touching The Selfish Giant.
The film is reminiscent of Swiss drama Sister; while it lacks that film’s stunning twist, it shares with it a young protagonist driven to systematic theft (here of copper) and an engagement with deeper social issues that’s not allowed to overtake the film’s fundamental emotionality. Our boy thief here is English lad Arbor (Conner Chapman) – whose dialogue is primarily composed of “fuck you” – and his more considerate companion Swifty (Shaun Thomas). They bond over copper and horses and shared poverty, all conveyed with an unobtrusive rhythm by Barnard and cinematographer Mike Eley.
The Selfish Giant uses a place defined by rough edges and raw desperation to navigate the slippery slope of morality and consequences when we do what we must. It’s not as dark as this might suggest; it’s frequently funny and finds genuine warmth in the bond between these two boys. Recommended.