Saturday, 24 March 2018
From 2007 to 2012 there were some 79 recorded instances of suicide among young people in Bridgend, South Wales. The similarities between each tragic case were striking - the teenagers had hung themselves, they knew one another, they went to the same school, they visited the same social networking sites and online chat rooms - but their reasons confounded the authorities, the community and the wider world. I well remember these curious, tragic cases and know that no answer has ever been given.
It takes a brave or frankly crass director to tackle a dramatic interpretation of these events and thankfully, Danish documentary filmmaker Jeppe Rønde is wise and sensitive enough to know that offering audiences his own imagined answer for this spate of suicides just wouldn't work. To do so, really would have been crass and presumptive. As such, anyone expecting to find a coherent narrative and answers in his film, Bridgend, will be far from happy, but frankly such criticisms aren't valid in my point of view. To come to this film expecting a reason for what happened, for it all to be tied up in a bow, is just stupid.
That's not to say that Rønde doesn't make some elliptical, vague suggestions though and I'm sure many of them have already crossed the minds of anyone who, like me, has been fascinated by this case - does rural isolation and alienation play a part, or is it simply the lack of opportunity to be found in such small, disenfranchised and rather hermetic former mining communities? Is there something strange and secretive going on via the online community, or is it just a way for the victims to hit back at their parents who simply cannot comprehend their lives and have failed them all in some way?
The one criticism I can appreciate however is that this is 'too soon'. There are people still suffering, still grieving and still mourning these inexplicable deaths that, to fictionalise them, is bound to prove offensive for some. It's surprising that Rønde, a documentary filmmaker, didn't make a documentary about this strange saga really as I am sure that a) there would be a market for that, and b) it would be more palatable for those left behind.
As a narrative piece Rønde draws on not only the Nordic Noir of his Scandinavian roots, but also the rich seam of similarly themed Welsh Noir that started with the Philip Madoc series A Mind To Kill back in the 1990s and continues to this day with bleak and compelling Hinterland. As such what we get is a hauntingly shot movie that makes great use of natural light to capture the leaden, drizzly skies of the economically neglected, raw and rugged Welsh valleys. The atmosphere is bleak and portentous - sometimes verging on the folk horror territory in fact - and it wouldn't be incorrect to say that Rønde's film explores the baffling, mass hysterical nature of what occurred in Bridgend in a similar manner to Carol Morley's The Falling, Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock and Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. Despite these likely inspirations and the inherent eerie strangeness, Rønde still manages to ground his film with a very real sense of what that kind of an isolated and isolating town may represent or feel like for someone approaching adulthood, with all the mixed up feelings that stage in life can inspire, and captures a fine and sympathetic performance from his leading lady Hannah Murray and an intriguing one from God's Own Country star Josh O'Connor.