‘The Selfish Giant’ is a mildy bizarre twist on the kitchen sink drama

Christopher gives one of the great kid performances in Clio Barnard's "The Selfish Giant." Credit: IFC Films
Connor Chapman gives one of the great kid performances in Clio Barnard’s “The Selfish Giant.”
Credit: IFC Films

‘The Selfish Giant’
Director: Clio Barnard
Stars: Connor Chapman, Shaun Thomas
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

There’s possibly no way to follow up a feature debut as original as “The Arbor,” English filmmaker Clio Barnard’s experimental documentary. That film dug into the tumultuous life of working class playwright Andrea Dunbar — and the damaged children she left behind — in a most unusual way: it took recorded interviews and had them mouthed by actors pretending to be them. It takes awhile to get used to how deceptively ordinary her sophomore feature is, namely that it’s a kitchen sink drama in the Ken Loach mould. (It even shares some of the same actors, including Steve Evets.)

But it’s not exactly stock. Returning to overcast Dunbar, England of “The Arbor,” it even features a character named Arbor, namely the young pup played by Connor Chapman, in what instantly becomes one of the great kid performances. Both he and pal Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are precocious yet childlike children with little to do but get involved into the local scrap metal black market biz. It’s set in the modern day, but much of “The Selfish Giant” — very loosely based on the Oscar Wilde short story — plays like a “Mad Max” entry, with old-fashioned horse races and a vaguely post-apocalyptic feel.

Stylistically, Barnard doesn’t bewilder as she did with her debut; it’s your typical hand-held approach to true grit. But the mix of elements creates a time-warpy quality made all the more bizarre by how casually realistic it’s played. It’s a deep wallowing in a very specific and sometimes surreal microcosm, one with no lack of terrific names, including a menacing scrap metal lord named Kitten (Sean Glider). It doesn’t whack you upside the head like “The Arbor,” but it does sneak up behind you.


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