He drinks Cornish. He wears Cornish. He even speaks Cornish.
Meet Martin Ward, the centrifugal force, spinning out of control, at the centre of Mark Jenkin’s impressive debut feature, Bait.
Martin (Edward Rowe) is a man of tradition, a fisherman displaced by the migration of monied suburbanites into his picturesque hometown. Having sold the family home to middle class AirBnb’ers, Martin is determined to make ends meet against a tide of gentrification slowly eroding his beloved fishing village, as he continues to fish for paltry returns in his pots and nets. Selling what little he catches to local pubs and door to door customers; he stashes his money away in an old biscuit tin with the hope that one day he’ll be able to afford a boat (and crew) to reel in a decent catch.
There’s more than a hint that Martin’s hardscrabble life wasn’t always like this. The spectre of his father continues to assure him throughout Bait with sage-like counsel from the past, while in the present he is unable to hide the scornful distaste he has for his brother who has caved in to the tourist trade and earns a living by taking sightseers out on his boat.
It’s no mean feat that Jenkin’s hands-on approach is ingrained in this labour of love, which he not only wrote and directed, but processed every single film reel by hand. Filmed on a manually wound Bolex camera, Bait offers an artisanal, handmade quality against the homogenisation its drama vehemently rallies against.
The film, literally, sparkles with the old-world charm of Pathé newsreel footage in its 4:3 aspect ratio, leaning in to a sort of self-imposed purgatory where we are witnessing the modern world through the scope of yesteryear. It’s a choice that works two-fold. By adding an air of romanticism to the coastal landscapes that Jenkin encapsulates in his frame, it also hints at Martin’s black and white binary outlook on life.
Where the past meets the present; Martin is caught in a net he cast long ago
Martin is painted as a sympathetic sort, and yet lacks the ability to see the wider picture of the turning local economy. He doggedly, and perhaps foolhardily, presses on to keep his old ritualistic way of life alive, unaware of the impact his ill-tempered attitude has on the impressionable generation of young people, now coming of age, in the community. Where the past meets the present; Martin is caught in a net he cast long ago, determined to keep hope alive in the legacy he inherited, despite all pointers indicating he is on a fool’s errand.
In as much as Martin battles to retain his Cornish identity, this is a film stamping out its own – caught between a dichotomy of old and new but aligning itself with neither of them. The class entitlement of ‘townies’ sipping their Chenin Blanc in their rental holiday homes, though sweepingly caricatured, is not judgemental of their lifestyles. After all, this is survivalist Britain where the working-class like Martin scrimps and saves to get by, the middle-classes, too, are feathering their own nests in the new cottage-industry climate.
Bait brings a fresh shot in the arm to British filmmaking
Bait comes into its own through a near-perfect marriage of visual brio and thunderous drama, helped no end by Rowe’s stone-faced commitment to role (playing against type, as he is known as a local stand-up comedian). Couple this with an awkwardly stilted, but fitting, post-dubbing, Bait brings a fresh shot in the arm to British filmmaking of a pioneering mash-up style that feels anything but superfluous.
In one scene, we witness fishermen bringing in their nets from the sea; the film grain starts to speckle uncontrollably and somehow it feels apt, even comforting to see the analogue origins make their unique imperfections known (from questioning the producer, it turns out that pollen particles had affected that particular section of film while it was drying out). Fundamentally, the purposeful and the accidental make Bait all the more intriguing as an outstanding British work deliberately going against the grain.