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Shane Meadows has become somewhat of an icon in British low budget
film-making. After watching 'A Room for Romeo Brass' a while ago and
experiencing something special, I remember expecting my interest and
excitement to die out in his future films as they would almost
inevitably move deeper into the Hollywood money-making machine. But
after the enormously unexpected marvel that was 'Dead Man's Shoes' and
the continued success with 'This is England', Meadows is still giving
us astounding cinema.
Somers Town is the story of a clearly troubled but confident teen from the Midlands, Tomo, getting on a train to London seeking something that never seems to become clear. Although many will understandably want to know more about his past, this mystery only adds to the fascination that stays with the viewer throughout the film, and in my case, also a good deal of time afterwards. After a few distressing encounters, which oddly cause more distress for the audience than appears for Tomo, he meets and becomes good friends with Marek, a young Polish boy. The simple but surprisingly intriguing plot continues to unfold and doesn't allow for a moment of boredom or lapse in concentration.
While continuing the social realism that British low budget cinema has become famous for, Meadows adds touches of originality in terms of shooting and aesthetic pleasure. From the strange optically illusory panels on the blocks of flats to the carefully thought out and perfectly constructed framing of shots, there are always moments that are not only attractive to filmmakers but also on a more subconscious level to those who might not spot these details. The beauty doesn't stop at visuals however, as the film delivers a soundtrack capturing the emotions and atmosphere intended as accurately as I've ever seen.
While the film itself contains enough artistic ability and heart-warming hilarity to please any hedonist, the messages being sent out should also be taken seriously as they provide a light able to bring colour (despite the film being in black and white) to the bleakness that seems to be looming over British society today. The fact that Tomo and Marek's friendship feels so ashamedly incongruous speaks for itself. To anyone with open eyes and a sharp mind, this problem is quite clearly apparent (unfortunately however, often too uncomfortable to talk about) and we can only remain hopeful that the recent success of political parties such as the BNP in London doesn't last much longer. In recommending this film to younger generations, a positive message can be circled where it might have the most effect, and those alarmingly frequent and ignorant comments that we all experience at some point (such as one of the more intelligent comments I recently heard: "F**k multiculturalism") can begin a steady decline.
All in all, Somers Town is another refreshingly passionate film from Shane Meadows, undoubtedly drawing on events from his own personal experiences, just as he recently stated about his darker film 'This is England'. As always, he has used his heart as well as his imaginative mind in the film-making process. He seems to be attacking a growing number of genres in his unique way and will hopefully stick to his roots in creating more films that are realistic and inspiring in the future. Aspiring filmmakers should watch and take note.
Others have written that this film is a cute coming-of-age platonic
love story. Well, that's one way of viewing the film. Another more
direct reading is to look at the relationships between the white
English and the immigrants (Polish and French). Both sets of people are
portrayed somewhat stereotypically. The white English are Del Boy
wideboys, lazy, rude, chavlike, selfish, self-centred, always on the
scrounge, moaning, violent, loutish and drunk. The immigrants are
decent hard-working people with a moral compass, who know what's right
and what's wrong. Despite these stereotypical characters, this is an
amazingly powerful film.
I'm a white middle-class English man and I've spent a lot of my life living in inner cities (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Milton Keynes). You know what? - these stereotypes rang (frighteningly) true to me. The film captured many of my frustrations with the way that the English national culture has changed; less tolerant, less considerate, less welcoming, more something-for-nothing. This is England today. The film made me feel ashamed of what we have become.
I left the cinema saddened; thinking that England could once again become a great country to live in if only we could remove all the bloody English.
"Somers Town" is one of the sweetest little films of any festival this
year. Shane Meadows ("This Is England"), directing from a strikingly
authentic Paul Fraser script, has crafted a winner with so much to like
that it's hard to know where to begin.
The film takes its name from an area of inner London where the landscape is dominated by monstrous natural gas tanks and the construction of a station for a Channel Tunnel rail link. Marek (Piotr Jagiello) lives in the shadow of the humongous structure and spends his days shooting photographs of the area and trying to stay occupied as his father toils away at the construction site. Like many in the town, they are Polish immigrants who came looking for work and stayed. One day Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) appears out of nowhere, a boy Marek's age who is little more than a street urchin from the East Midlands to the locals. A fortuitous meeting between the two boys forges an unlikely friendship. Tomo is a tough punk (or thinks he is) and Marek is introspective and sensitive -- it's the basis for a character arc which is classic in the coming-of-age genre. We know where they're going -- how they get there is at the heart of "Somers Town." The outstanding supporting cast includes a sweetly understated Elisa Lasowski as Maria, the local girl who they both fall for, and the hilarious Perry Benson as Graham, who provides much of the film's comic relief (not that it needs any more than the boys already provide) as an eccentric neighbor who is literally indescribable. But it's the on screen chemistry between the boys which makes "Somers Town" the gem that it is. In a wise casting move, Turgoose and Jagiello, both 15, are the same age as their characters. In one scene where the two party a little too hearty, Meadows simply directed them to have fun and let the cameras roll. The result is one of the best scenes in any film I saw here this year.
"Somers Town" surprises at every turn. The film is shot completely in black and white save for the final sequence. It's a rarely used technique which, although unfamiliar at first, quickly falls away as the viewer focuses on the budding relationship between Tomo and Marek. After awhile we don't even notice the absence of color, for the story itself provides a rainbow of feelings. This device also makes lighting somewhat irrelevant, which allows a focus more on the characters rather than the look of the film. The soundtrack is simply a perfect match, with a playlist of tender acoustic songs that seems tailor-made for the narrative.
Everything about this film says "gentle and tender," from the friendship between the two boys -- what could almost be described as a platonic love story, to the longing the two have for Maria -- the object of affection who is always just out of reach, if only by age and maturity, and even to the father's tentative but loving relationship to his son -- in stark contrast to typical American films where the two would be constantly butting heads.
More than anything, though, there is no doubt that Turgoose and Jagiello carry this film on their young shoulders. Never have two young teens needed each other at this point in their lives as much as Tomo and Marek, and their relationship is so incredibly funny and touching that it had audiences in stitches and had me smiling from ear to ear from start to finish. It's no wonder that Turgoose and Jagiello each received the jury award for Best Actor here at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, where "Somers Town" had its North American Premiere. "Somers Town" is a charming and funny gem with a heart of gold.
Shane Meadows' new release, Somers Town, has received mixed reviews in
the British press. The film has received criticism for its source of
funding, having been developed with the funding of Eurostar from a
promotional short to a fully-fledged feature. But beyond this, Somers
Town has been criticised for being short, inconclusive and too
whimsical in handling its grim subject matter. I would contend that
although the style of Meadows sits rather awkwardly with the
involvement of Eurostar, the film itself is a triumph: funny,
intelligent and poignant.
Set in an area of inner city London near the construction site of the new Eurostar train terminal, the film follows the fortunes of two young boys from troubled backgrounds. Tomo, played by Thomas Thurgoose, arrives in London on a train from Nottingham, having run away from home. He never lets on about where he came from, and when asked he says that there is 'nothing' there. When Tomo reaches London he is soon set upon by a gang of youths. The camera moves uncomfortably close to Tomo and the bullying youths and the subsequent chase and beating set a dark undertone for the rest of the film. Thurgoose is superb in this lead role, cheeky, rude even, but charming and disarming a far cry from the youths who attack him in the film's opening.
Tomo crosses paths with Marek (played by Piotr Jagiello), a young Polish immigrant living with his father, Marius. Marius is working long hours on the building site of the future Eurostar terminal and Marek is listless in his absence, roving the streets of London with his camera until he bumps into the disruptive Tomo. The two boys, though from very different backgrounds, are essentially rootless, and soon become friends. Together they vie for the attention of Maria, the beautiful waitress working in a local café, leading to some of the happiest scenes in the film. They also help out budding salesman Graham, a slightly absurd and very amusing Del Boy character.
The dialogue amongst the characters in Somers Town is excellent, often hilarious but at times sad and moving. Thurgoose delivers his lines with a sharp wit and the film is at its funniest when the two boys compete for the affection of Maria. The darker scenes in the film, including the attack on Tomo and the falling-out between Marek and Marius, are believably portrayed and equally engaging. Where the dialogue flags is where the new Eurostar terminal and the accompanying ideas of travel and escape work their way into the story. It is difficult to disregard the source of funding for the film and it is at these points in the film that there is a vague whiff of product placement.
Nevertheless, it seems that Shane Meadows has used the creative licence afforded to him to re-work the original short film idea into a distinctive work. Although his film runs to only 75 minutes it does not feel insubstantial or inconclusive quite the contrary. The wistful, poignant ending throws light on the preceding film and affirms the themes of rootlessness, despair and dreams of escape.
With the wealth of Hollywood blockbusters and fine foreign-language films being produced this year it has been easy to overlook the films emerging closer to home, but this superb film has made me sit up and look for more British cinema.
Though clearly a bit of a "quickie" project made in the immediate afterglow of This Is England - and featuring that film's young star Thomas Turgoose in one of the two main roles - the DV-shot, (mainly) black-and-white, minimal-budgeted 'Somers Town' is by no means a "minor" Meadows. Indeed, in terms of tonal consistency, concision and cumulative emotional wallop, it's in several ways a more satisfying enterprise than its bigger, BAFTA-winning "brother". Indeed (again), there have been very few more moving films from any director since Meadows' own Dead Man's Shoes (2004) - though in this instance it's very much a case of joyful rather than sorrowful tears. This is a delightful, quietly topical, deceptively slight miniature about teenage friendship and first love - scarcely new subjects for cinema, but handled with sufficient sensitivity, humour and spirit to emphatically justify such a choice of material. Meadows and his scriptwriter Paul Fraser, meanwhile, deserve particular credit for so deftly maintaining such a delicate balance between the bouncily engaging story and its sad, even tragic subtexts.
While I did have a few more problems with Somers Town than with Shane
Meadows' other works it really is another wonderful piece of imperfect
art here from the midlands maestro (don't even ask me why I've gone
into excess hyperbole mode, sorry).
The story, a rather slight one actually, concerns the arrival of young Nottingham lad, Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) in London and his trouble finding his way until he meets and befriends young Marek (played by Piotr Jagiello). There's a girl involved (Maria, played by Elisa Lasowski) to keep things a little bit tense between the pair and there are a number of little trials they go through while trying to stick together in the face of adversity.
The performances here were wonderful, Turgoose backing up all the praise he has received since his appearance in the brilliant This Is England (also a Meadows movie) and the newcomers all performing in a fantastically natural manner in front of the directors unobtrusive camera. And this is underscored at times by a wonderful soundtrack that's well worth mentioning.
I was slightly put out by the first 5-10 minutes of Somers Town but the rest of the movie made up for that and carried me along on some bizarre, surreal and yet all too mired in reality, young man's odyssey. The black and white cinematography (used for approximately 95% of the movie and only giving way to colour at the very end) was nicely shot and never really jarred while watching something that, indeed, felt like a selection of good and bad memories from a certain period of adolescence.
And I was very, very impressed by Meadows not making the father figure the ogre that Marek often made him out to be. Mariusz (played by Ireneusz Czop) was very close to how any father could be in the situation he found himself and his son in and the movie was all the better for not succumbing to any clichéd performance/characterisations. All of the relationships in the movie were actually very sweet, warm and "real" as shown. Even the friendly, yet strict, café owner is believable. Not one note actually rings false in any of the performances, my only complaint was how Meadows established the harsh reality of the situation and then proceeded to ignore it as the lads managed to frolic around and lose themselves in a Summer of fun and frolics. Yep, I said frolics.
It's definitely not up there with his best, as far as I'm concerned, but Meadows has certainly crafted another little gem here that should please fans of his work and stand proudly as a snapshot of England seen through the eyes of those struggling to settle in their own skin.
See this if you like: This Is England, TwentyFourSeven, King Of The Hill.
Shane Meadows' beautiful snapshot of life for two teenagers in North
London, "Somers Town", is a million miles away from "This is England"
in tone, but has no less class or brilliance about it. Filmed in
wonderful black and white, this is a delightful, entertaining and
involving piece about youth, culture and friendship.
The power of Meadows's film-making is in his characters. Something rings fundamentally true about the people that he brings to the screen, and the writing of Paul Fraser (a long time Meadows-collaborator) is a great help to this film. The dialogue is humorous, moving and insightful, which gets the audience utterly involved in this film. Added to this, the acting is wonderful. Thomas Turgoose, who was spectacular in "This is England", continues to be an impressive and interesting screen presence. He is ably supported, not just by Piotr Jagiello, who plays the Polish teenager Marek, but by the rest of the small, but perfectly formed, ensemble.
This film is not just an entertaining and moving piece, but is also a beautiful film with a dash of severity. There is a particularly emotive and thought-provoking scene where the immigrant father and son talk to each other. Britain's debates on immigration often ignore the individuals involved in the issues, and that scene cuts right to an unexplored area of the matter.
The beauty of the film is not just in its emotions and characters, but also in its photography. Monochrome is a form of cinematography which lends itself to beauty, but Meadows exploits this magnificently. There is a change to colour during the film which could have been crass but is in fact wonderful. The images are also accompanied by a beautiful series of songs which give the film real character. All of these elements come to fore in a number of dialogue-less sequences.
Meadows has created a lovely piece of cinema. Short though it is, that is part of its charm. It is not extraneous or self-indulgent. It is what it is: a simple joy to be delighted in by many.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Somers Town is endless - in the very literal meaning of the word.
The opening minutes of this nicely shot black and white piece, set just north of London's Marylebone Road, are wonderfully atmospheric and you settle into your seat with a sense that you are about to be greatly entertained in some way, such is the deftness of the set-up. The acting is uniformly excellent and you quickly warm to the plight of all the characters. So far so wonderful.
But, as any screenplay-writer or script-reader will tell you, the set-up is easy, it's writing a compelling story that's the tough part. Soon the unanswered questions start piling up. What is the lad from Nottingham running from and why is no one after him? Is the Polish lad's 'Dad' really his Dad (this one gets answered eventually) and why isn't he in some kind of school? And then we get to the point at which the film stops. And stop it does because there is no ENDING. Just when the film seems to be changing up a gear and you are suckered into thinking some questions will be answered or resolved, you are left with a casually shot color sequence that would be poor as a mid-film montage but is an absolute stunner of a let-down as a resolution.
The film-makers obviously worked so hard on this film. The sets, the wardrobe, the cinematography, the casting, the acting, the editing and much of the direction are all notable for their sharp and sensitive choices but whoever thought this casually tossed off last two minutes of color film was an ending or a resolution? With some thought, and some hard choices made over the keyboard over a couple of nights this could have been a truly remarkable film.
What a shame for all concerned.
Short, compact, yet rich with satisfaction: this film encompassing some
beautiful moments to take with you and treasure. Shot in black & white,
this film scores for being simple, yet moving, deep and unique.
In a world of blockbusters and 2 hour feature films, this short, simple indie film came as a welcome relief. It was 'bite-sized' if you can attribute that phrase. In other words digestible: it had a pleasantly warming message of friendship and the beauty of human emotions. Therefore perfect to consume on a quiet sunny afternoon.
By not being too long, this film does not loose out in being concise, it feels like every short scene is of real value to the story. This creates a pleasant pace and means the audience is kept enticed and captivated. Interwoven in this storyline and despite its brief nature, Meadows is still able to weave in thought-provoking shots and sequences to really underline the nature of social study.
Overall it is indeed a little gem, not to be left to gather dust on the shelf. Its one of those movies you could watch on a typical afternoon in the house to give you a satisfying feeling of wholeness.
Very impressive: 83/100
After seeing Shane Meadows brilliant,but unsettling previous film, 'This Is England',I wondered how is he going to top himself with this one? The answer comes in the form of 'Somers Town',a gritty,grainy black & white film (with colour inserts) with a real "do it yourself" (or,D.I.Y.)look to it, that wears it's heart on it's sleeve. The story concerns two teen aged boys,Tomo (played by Thomas Turgoose,from 'This Is England'),a homeless lad that managed to escape a harrowing home life in the north-Midlands to run wild in the streets of London, and Marek (played by newcomer Piotr Jagiello),a young lad, who is living with his divorced father,Mariusz (played by Ireneusz Czap),both immigrants from Poland living in London. Tomo & Marek meet under some dubious circumstances,with Marek not liking Tomo much at first,but the two forge an uneasy friendship,fall in love with the same woman (a French waitress,Maria,played by Elisa Lasowski),and generally become B.F.F's (best friends forever). Paul Fraser writes a heartfelt screenplay about two opposites that overcome odds to find friendship (Tomo is easily the most unlikely to be able to even have a friend,due to his scrappy nature,while Marek is lonely,due to his father's hard drinking with his co-workers). Natasha Braier's kitchen sink,black & white/colour photography (shot in monochrome HD)gives this film it's character look,and the crisp editing really works to give this film the kudos it deserves. Not rated,but contains some rude language,sexual content & a rather nasty gang beating inflicted on the young Tomo by a street gang
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