"Hallam Foe": The Rights of Passage By Steven Yates

in 9th Motovun International Film Festival

by Steven Yates

With its perennial oscillations between successes, superficial highs and years in the wilderness, British Cinema has mainly been in the shadow of not only its more illustrious cousins across the Atlantic but also the bright lights of its European neighbors. In fact, in more recent years, British Cinema has had to rely on America for financial help in the form of co-productions. It’s not only been a one way supply though, as Britain has lent some of its big names that have gone on to become at least as famous as the home-grown stars for extremely bankable American films.

In recent years, however, an independent British cinema is showing signs of emerging again, following in the footsteps of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. With directors like Michael Winterbottom, Shane Meadows, Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold, there seems to be a wave of successful directors that are independently British and making films that are neither set in some glorious past or reliant on transatlantic or foppish old school English accents. David Macdonald is the latest of this new wave and after already tasting critical and commercial success with his film Young Adam in 2003; he is already repeating this with Asylum (2005) and now Hallam Foe.

What was immediate about Hallam Foe was how much effort was put into the skillfully designed animated opening credits, instantly creating a distinctive atmosphere, an individual world. Also, this unique mood was further enhanced by the inclusion on the soundtrack of the Scottish rock group Franz Ferdinand who specially recorded the song Hallam Foe Dandelion Blow for the film. As for the story, 17-year-old Hallam likes to watch the world from a tree house in the grounds of his father’s estate in the Scottish Borders. This spying not only compensates his repressed desires but also shields him from his darkest fears. Bearing the scars of his mother’s still unresolved death in the pond next to the mansion; Hallam is driven to find out the true cause of her passing. Hallam’s prime suspect is his beautiful step mother who can do no wrong in his father’s eyes. He also has a crush on her but believes her scheming has driven his sister to Australia and is also the reason why he eventually leaves for Edinburgh. With no money or contacts, he finds his climbing skills useful for the city rooftops and he instantly becomes besotted with a beautiful young girl he believes looks just like his mother.

Hallam Foe was produced by Sigma Films who also produced the other British entry in the main competition, Red Road by director Andrea Arnold, also a film about voyeurism, produced and filmed in Scotland but with a more serious subject matter. Just as with her short film Wasp, Arnold has found something of the Midas touch when it comes to winning at festivals, in particular her award from the Cannes Jury and now a special mention from the main Jury in Motovun. Where Arnold’s film shows a typically gritty wrong side of Glasgow peopled by locals, save for a young woman from London, Hallam Foe has the cosmopolitan mix that has bestowed the more beautiful, optimistic and always upwardly mobile Edinburgh in recent years. In this case, it is the upper class English bringing their brand of suppressed social dysfunction north of the border, something that Hallam will submerge into and emerges from. For what is an excellent rites of passage film with the still young Jamie Bell a central protagonist as another innocent adolescent caught up in involuntary mayhem, Hallam Foe still has enough lighter elements that further benefit from Bell’s inability to keep his character’s feet on the ground.

Hallam Foe is fresh piece of work and shows in David Mackenzie a director full of enthusiasm and passion. With this film, his directorial career is mirroring that of his lead character, a transition to a new maturity. Although the topic of the film has been touched on many times, Mackenzie has dealt with it in a very original and charming way. The coming of age of the main character — through the highs, lows and temptations of life — abounds with freshness both in the production and interpretation of the main character that was felt shouldn’t be overlooked in Motovun and judging by the audiences’ reaction, it was a success with them too.