Broken: a patchwork journey into the circle of life
by Fabien Lemercier
18/05/2012 - Taking on a wealth of motifs of the traditional figure of the young girl on the brink between childhood and adolescence, Britain’s Rufus Norris, who has a background in theatre, made a very good impression last night at the opening of the Critics’ Week of the Cannes Film Festival. Interweaving stories which trace the summer of three neighbouring families in a typically English suburb, his first feature film, Broken [trailer], reveals itself as a highly precise clockwork, endowed with an irresistible charm, thanks in part to a charismatic young actress (Eloise Laurence) and outstanding work on editing and music.
An adaptation by Mark O’Rowe from a novel by Daniel Clay, Broken centres around Skunk, whose real name is Emily, 11 years old, lives with her father, lawyer Archie (an excellent Tim Roth), her older brother and the babysitter Kasia. She never really knew her mother, who left home years earlier, a common example of family dysfunction in the neighbourhood, made up of the Oswalds, where the mother is dead (the dad is raising three harpy girls on his own) and the Buckleys, whose gentle-mannered son Rick is mentally unbalanced. It’s summer: Skunk (who is a diabetic) is dreading her first day at College (where works professor Mike, in love with Kasia, played by Cillian Murphy) and discovers the at times violent and always complex feelings which plague her environment : the weight of lies, the impact of fear, weakness and violence. Loves which blossom and fail, the limits of fatherly affection, the unspeakable boundaries of madness: the drama could be set in any banal suburb, in any existence, like a sort of penalty paid without being knowingly responsible for it.
Paradoxically the film tackles these very serious arguments with great light-heartedness, and an underlying comedy and freshness. The accuracy of the portrayals (from the first teenage kisses to different parental attitudes on the subject of education) of the film’s ten or so main characters is built into a whirlwind of scenes (and shots), sometimes revisited in clever flashbacks of scenes seen from another angle. The lies or unsaids have perverse and harsh consequences witnessed as an observant by the angelic Skunk. But she will also end up entering this circle of life where death is lurking…
Apart from the quality of the actors, Broken is above all surprising for its clever deconstruction of the story and for its injection (in small doses) of dream-like sequences. Moving swiftly from one character to the next, the film rests on a multitude of little details and accessories, creating a real identity for some relatively archetypal characters (The ‘confessor’ lawyer who solves problems, the impulsive neighbour who expresses himself with his fists, the little blackmailer, the easy girl, the woman looking for stability, the man who doesn’t know what he wants, the mother who is suffocating in her desire to protect, etc.). In addition to the film’s enticing rhythm, sophisticated work has gone into the music (composed by Damon Albarn) and sound, which the filmmaker uses consistently and to great effect. A patchwork of narrative and sound which lends the film a mark of originality without slipping into the pretentious, as well as whiff of modernity on what is after all a well-trodden emotional territory, all with respect to Britain’s solid tradition of realist cinema. Some great extra points for the first feature of a filmmaker whose next opus will be awaited with much curiosity.
(Translated from French)