Real-life drama about why, in a beautiful and quirky rural town, film- maker Jez Lewis' childhood friends are killing themselves. Beginning with a personal quest for understanding, the film...
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Real-life drama about why, in a beautiful and quirky rural town, film- maker Jez Lewis' childhood friends are killing themselves. Beginning with a personal quest for understanding, the film moves into a year-long drama of human tragedy and redemption as principal character Cass comes to terms with his own mortality and attempts to lift himself out of his cycle of self-destruction. This core narrative carves an upward arc through an intimate study of a place often described as paradise, but which harbours an undertow of lethal hedonism and disillusionment. As people continue to kill themselves during the making of the film, a maelstrom of conflicting values throws up unexpected truths about the human condition.Written by
"Shed Your Tears and Walk Away" is a documentary about drug abuse and alcoholism in Hebden Bridge, which is a small town in West Yorkshire surrounded by verdant countryside. The director, Jez Lewis, grew up and went to school there.
Many young people have died in "Hebden" over the years, including many who abused drugs, alcohol or both. Some committed suicide; others died accidentally. "Jez" (who knew some of them) explores the reasons for the deaths and why the townspeople seem to be resigned to them. It emerges that many of the alcohol and drug-users depicted have low self-esteem and feel trapped. One young woman comments that, as everyone drinks, it is impossible or hard not to do so. Jez's childhood friend Cass, who is a recovering alcoholic, is, he says at one point, scared of living.
There is some narration (by the director) but it forms only a small fraction of all the words spoken and I found it helpful and by no means excessive. In general the film does not tell the viewer things; instead it shows them. The director isn't visible on screen; he is, evidently, behind the camera throughout. It is also evident that he is making the film on his own. These things are evident because he and his subjects interact with each other throughout. Sometimes this is because he is asking his subjects questions but often it is because they simply include him in conversations they are having with each other in his presence or because he just keeps the camera rolling while he converses with them. He starts out as a film-maker but becomes a participant. At one point Cass asks Jez to turn off the camera while he drinks a can of special brew. Jez replies that, if keeping filming is what he has to do to dissuade Cass from drinking alcohol, he will keep filming.
Most of the people on screen were born and bred locally. They include Cass' friend nick-named "Silly" (who drinks and has used heroin), Silly's partner Di, Silly's friend Christian (who drinks), Cass' step-sons, his mother, a 27-ish year old scaffolder called Liam (who has been a heroin addict since he was 14), Liam's mother and his sister.
Stories emerge. Cass tries to give up alcohol but relapses. Deaths occur. Mourners go to funerals. Graveyards are visited. Birthdays are celebrated. Tennis gets played, bicycles get ridden and Robin Hood's grave is visited. Silly and Di get engaged. Cass gets a video camera and films a young woman called Nichola on a night out. Jez's voice-over informs us that it is the last time Cass will see her. The next shot shows her grave-stone.
We learn about people's childhoods and family histories. Fathers were usually absent. Silly hitch-hiked to Paris and joined the French foreign legion. The first person he killed, while on duty in Somalia, was, it turned out, only about twelve years old. Silly took heroin in order to blot out his memory of the incident. When he stopped taking heroin the memory tormented him.
Occasionally someone puts his hand in front of the camera lens or asks Jez to stop filming. Liam's mother and Silly are shown crying and many people are repeatedly shown holding cans of special brew and drinking at all times of day or night. I doubt that everyone shown always consented (at a time when they were under the influence of neither drugs nor alcohol) to being filmed but I found the film to be respectful towards its subjects, not voyeuristic. We are not shown anyone injecting heroin or snorting cocaine.
This film helped me to understand the point of view of a community of a sort with which I usually have little contact.
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