in 30th Torino Film Festival

by Maria Teresa Oleksiewicz

The Scotland that we get to see in Shell is very different from the Scotland shown to us by Ken Loach in his latest film, The Angel’s Share. It isn’t a Glasgow that offers its unemployed youth only a bleak future but, at the same time, a chance to meet with friends.

The Highlands are a region with a very small population, and Scott Graham knows this Northern part of Scotland well. Having been born there, it is his heimat, battered by winds, deserted, isolated from industrial civilization. Mountains, covered with snow on the horizon; silence, only interrupted now and then by the sounds of passing cars and trucks.

Graham said that he wanted to tell a story about someone who is tied both physically and emotionally to an extremely isolated place, a petrol station in the middle of the Highlands. He has now told that story twice. The first version of Shell won the British Council prize for best film at the London Short Film Festival. Four years later, Graham has presented another variation on this theme, his feature film debut Shell, in the Torino Film Festival’s competition.

The eponymous protagonist (around 20 years old) and her father Pete (around 50) are living at said service station. He repairs cars; she fulfils the duties of a house-wife, cleaning, cooking, and serving the meals. It is she, too, who deals with passing customers. When one driver asks her if her name was the same as the brand name of that well-known petrol company, she responds that she was named after ‘that beautiful thing’ which you find in the sea.

If such shellfish did not exist, we would not know the beauty of pearls. And Shell is a real pearl: unpretentious, hard working, empathic with animals, devoted to her father. She always keeps close to him, because she knows that each attack of his epilepsy might be the last. The very beauty of Shell lies in the truth of everyday existence, the truth of an emotional connection between daughter and father. I think that the young audience in Torino, which applauded Shell, felt that we received something, as if it had poured from the screen.

Many years ago, Orson Welles paid tribute to the quality of Shoeshine, stating: “… what De Sica can do, that I can’t do. I ran his Shoeshine again recently and the camera disappeared; it was just life.” We may pay the same tribute to the quality of Shell, Best Film of the Torino Film Festival 2012. And we may hope that Scott Graham will not leave this young character and will show us this woman’s future destiny.

Edited by Alison Frank