Song of innocence

Song of innocence

Rufus Norris’s film debut ‘Broken’ offers an ambiguous portrayal of a dysfunctional neighborhood.

Published: November 14, 2012 (Issue # 1735)


‘Broken’ stars Cillian Murphy (l) as a schoolteacher and Tim Roth (r) as the protagonist’s father.

What can break a person? Being accused of a crime they did not commit? Betrayal by a loved one? Physical abuse? A child’s illness? Or the death of those closest to them?

Tragedy abounds in British filmmaker Rufus Norris’s film debut about a young girl’s harsh induction into the complex and fragmented world of adulthood, which saw its St. Petersburg premiere on Nov. 8. at Dom Kino movie theater. However, “Broken” is neither gratuitous nor censorial. On the contrary, it is a powerful, moving drama that probes the reasons people break down, but also explores the possibilities for healing and redemption offered by kindness and love.

“Broken” is based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Clay, which was inspired by Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and which also provides the movie with its thematic cue: The rites of passage a child faces as their secure world is shaken by a series of events in rapid succession.

The main protagonist of the drama is Skunk, an 11-year-old girl, and the only character in the film who retains some kind of innocence. She has a loving father, brother and friends. But life is less peaceful among her neighbors. In the first of the movie’s cruel tragedies, one neighbor — the embittered father of three girls — beats up sweet but unstable Rick, the boy who lives next door. The carefree joy of Skunk’s childhood give way to a series of severe trials.

Norris, a multi-award-winning theater director for whom “Broken” is his debut movie project, is careful to distance himself from moralizing and the harsh condemnation of people for the acts they carry out. At the end of the film there are no clear villains, as the characters prove simply to be broken individuals who evoke the sympathy and compassion of the viewer.

“I have a strong dislike of two-dimensional representations of anything, particularly ‘bad’ people, so I was very drawn by the opportunity of showing a very dysfunctional neighborhood without being simplistic in my treatment of the characters,” Norris said.

Norris has made a highly emotional and at the same time believable drama that features both heartbreaking moments and comic episodes, seen through the eyes of a child.

“What drew me most to this beautiful and incredibly moving story was a twofold challenge: To capture the essence of this open, vital child whilst having compassion for all the adults who in their separate ways manage to fail her, and to draw an unsentimental and total celebration of life from a seemingly tragic place,” said Norris.

The use of flashbacks to provide background context — the signature style of cinematographer Rob Hardy (“Red Riding 1974” and “Boy A”) — and the original music by Damon Albarn (frontman of the alternative rock band Blur and creator of the virtual band Gorillaz) both play their part in ensuring that Norris’ first foray into filmmaking can be considered a highly successful work. But the film’s strongest asset is its excellent cast, the best known of whom are Tim Roth (“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” “Pulp Fiction”), who plays Skunk’s father, and Cillian Murphy (“28 Days Later,” “The Dark Knight”), who portrays a schoolteacher. The leading actress, Eloise Laurence, who was chosen for the role from 850 girls, is a young newcomer to cinema, but her performance in “Broken” leaves no doubt that a glowing future in cinema awaits her.

The drama has received numerous positive reviews and won the Grand Prix at the Odessa International Film Festival, voted for by the audience. It has also been nominated for the European Discovery 2012 Prix FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics), due to be announced Dec. 1 at the 25th European Film Awards in Malta.

“Broken” is showing in English with Russian subtitles through Nov. 30 at Dom Kino, 12 Karavannaya Ulitsa. Tel. 314 5614.

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