The Selfish Giant
An incredible character tale that would take other filmmakers twice the running time to tell.
July 28, 2014
In a poor UK village, two school-aged friends realise they can make money by finding discarded metal and selling it to a local scrap dealer. The more obsessed they get with finding valuable materials, the more dangerous their quest becomes.
It's almost impossible to describe this film without making it sound like a bleak slog, so now that we're done with the story summary, let's get to the meat of it: The Selfish Giant is one of the best films of the year: captivating, often funny, and filled with the most naturalistic performances you're likely to see. The two kids at the heart of the story are so damn good, it's worth seeing for them alone. But everything in this film works, and we're presented with a view of a tough working class that seems accessible, familiar and genuine, regardless of your own social background.
The film is directed by one of the UK's most fascinating filmmakers, Clio Barnard. Her debut feature The Arbor in 2010 was unlike anything you've ever seen before. Not quite a documentary, not quite a dramatised narrative, it challenged the idea of how stories can and should be told. Barnard is one of the few filmmakers working who seems to be reinventing film in a way that feels tremendously exciting.
Barnard based the two main characters of The Selfish Giant on children she met while filming The Arbor, so it's a little curious that she named one of the kids 'Arbor'. Is there a deeper meaning there? The story claims to be partly based on Oscar Wilde's short story of the same name, a fantasy about a giant who tries to keep children out of his yard. It looks like it's a million miles away from Barnard's social realist film, but Wilde's fable is key in understanding the depths behind much of the film. It is by no means necessary — on its own, the film is a complete, satisfying experience — but by hinting at a deeper connection to literature beyond the walls of the cinema, Barnard again expands a straightforward story into something more exciting.
At a tight 91 minutes, Bernard wastes no time, giving us an incredible character tale that other filmmakers might take twice as long to accomplish. Be sure to see it.