Bridgend

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hannah Murray and Josh O'Connor in Bridgend
"Bridgend is a superb piece of work."

Making a film about real life incidents which are still causing suffering is always difficult. Sometimes those directly affected find it therapeutic; sometimes they say it shouldn't be done at all. How much more difficult, then, to strike the right balance when making a film about incidents that are still going on.

The famous Bridgend suicides took place between 2007 and 2009 - 25 of them, mostly children and young people, all but one using the same method. The media were fascinated as you might expect but experts on suicide warn that it often inspires copycat acts and ultimately the police asked reporters to stop covering it. Since then there are believed to have been at least 54 further cases.

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The first full-length feature by Jeppe Rønde, this film offers a fictional take on events, following teenage Sara (Hannah Murray) as she returns to the area with her police officer father (Steven Waddington) after spending some years in Bristol. She's lost her mother and the weight of grief is telling on her and her father alike. Their communication is poor at the outset, though they obviously still feel great affection for one another. Gradually, as he struggles to understand the suicides and she becomes a part of the local youth scene, they move further and further apart. He becomes terrified that she will join the ranks of the dead; she is frustrated by his resorting to force and his unwillingness to try and engage with what's happening on the younger people's terms.

The disorientation caused by suicide is profound here. The young people run wild in the woods, testing their courage with dangerous stunts, drinking and dancing themselves into a state of oblivion, but they've also developed rituals, their own ways of coping, screaming out the names of the dead or diving naked into the lake to float there on their backs, achieving a temporary peace. They take out their anger by smashing up the town, these activities directed by people in their private chatroom whose identities never quite become clear. The internet strengthens their bond, their sense of one-ness, but it's not about the internet. None of the familiar demons the frantic adults focus on has any real relevance. Their unity helps them hold onto one another but, given the number who have died, it also seems to weigh them down, pulling them toward death. "I heard voices calling to me," one boy says.

There's a sense here, too, of the weight of nature. The young people are happiest when following their animal instincts; they can find no point of connection to a civilisation that seems to have little to offer. Mountains loom over the city, wreathed in mist, the heavy grey sky glowering above. Down on the hillside, in the thick of the trees, there is no horizon. Sara thunders across the landscape on her horse, but there's no escape from the constant sense of pressure. She becomes involved with a local boy and their mutual fear gradually transmutes into something else.

There's an ever present danger here that the film will make the suicides seem too romantic, perhaps adding to their allure, but then again, where reason has failed, perhaps it's worth addressing the matter through poetry. Rønde's film certainly captures something which other work on the subject has failed to reach. The romance of it it is countered somewhat by Sara's function as a bridge between the two worlds, that of the young locals and that of the confused outsiders, as she tries to persuade her boyfriend that he has a choice. Both are certain that, to do that, they would have to leave town. There's something about this place that is overwhelming.

With fresh, naturalistic performances throughout and direction that artfully capture the immersiveness of youth culture, Bridgend is a superb piece of work. Whether or not Rønde has correctly interpreted the situation in the town is uncertain, but what he has created makes more sense than any other effort so far, perhaps by understanding that making sense is not the point.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2016
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As a policeman investigates a spate of suicides, his daughter is drawn into the youth culture from which they have emerged.

Director: Jeppe Rønde

Writer: Peter Asmussen, Peter Asmussen, Torben Bech, Torben Bech, Jeppe Rønde, Jeppe Rønde

Starring: Scott Arthur, Adam Byard, Elinor Crawley, Natasha Denby, Josh Green, Ceri Mears, Hannah Murray, Josh Oconnor, Patricia Potter, Adrian Rawlins, Aled Llyr Thomas, Steven Waddington

Year: 2015

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US, UK, Denmark


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