Review: ‘The Selfish Giant’ a sobering slice of social realism

‘The Selfish Giant’
From left, Swifty (Shaun Thomas) and Arbor (Conner Chapman) try to survive in “The Selfish Giant.”
(IFC Films)

On the heels of her remarkable documentary “The Arbor,” writer-director Clio Barnard returns to the Bradford area in northern England for a contemporary fable inspired by an Oscar Wilde fairy tale.

In this version, “The Selfish Giant” is Kitten (Sean Gilder), the proprietor of a scrap yard, but the story centers on a character named Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend, Swifty (Shaun Thomas), two misfit teenagers who skip school to scavenge metal for Kitten.

Arbor’s on meds for what’s probably ADHD, his prescription routinely nicked by his older brother to sell on the street. Swifty’s house has plenty of kids but no electricity — ironically, the boys’ big score is copper cable — due to a ne’er-do-well dad who sells their settee out from under them.

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Theirs is a landscape in decay, the area’s lost industry rusting in the countryside where livestock graze under crackling power lines. Cinematographer Mike Eley’s camera captures the silhouette of these forms against an indigo night sky, rendering them as exquisite abstract shapes and lines.

Meanwhile, Barnard brings a documentarian’s eye and ear to this Dickens-esque bildungsroman, recording the boys’ friendship in an intimate, vérité style. In English but subtitled due to the characters’ thick accents, “The Selfish Giant” is devastating social realism in the mode of Ken Loach’s “Kes.”



‘The Selfish Giant’

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood; also on VOD

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