INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "Somers Town"

somerstown

Somers Town is director Shane Meadows’ follow-up to his acclaimed 2007 film This is England (I considered it one of the year’s best), reuniting him with This is England’s young star Thomas Turgoose. The pairing feels so right once it becomes clear that Somers Town is a spiritual sequel, dealing with similar themes of immigration and multiculturalism in modern-day England.

Somers Town takes a significantly less darker approach to the themes, centering on the friendship between two teens, one a native Brit and the other a Polish immigrant. Turgoose plays Tomo, a 16-year-old who ran away from a rough home in the Midlands to the gritty streets of London, where a lonely immigrant his age named Marek (first timer Piotr Jagiello) befriends and shelters him.

After confronting xenophobia so thoroughly and intensely in This is England, Somers Town is the perfect show of progression, as we see how two kids with two different personalities and two entirely different backgrounds could still form a friendship out of nothing but a chance meeting. The story doesn’t deal with cultural differences directly, but lets it play into the characters’ actions in subtle ways. A clever thing the film does, but doesn’t call attention to, is reversing the skin colors of “the immigrant” and “the native.” Tomo, the native, is the one escaping hardship at home to a new urban area, taking on meager odd jobs. Marek, the immigrant, is the one providing food and shelter for him. The dynamic is interesting whenever Tomo calls attention to Marek being a foreigner—when he’s the stowaway. Just to hammer the point, Tomo also occasionally behaves in ways immigrants are stereotypically portrayed by xenophobes: he jumps in to take Marek’s job, he demands privileges that aren’t his, etc.

The film isn’t exactly criticizing anyone, though; it merely presents equal opportunity. Somers Town presents a good look at a role reversal in an easily relatable manner. On the surface, it’s a sweet coming-of-age story about Tomo and Marek helping each other when no one else would, filling each other’s void. The fact that Meadows cast Turgoose—who played a nationalist skinhead in the previous film—acts as a metafictional affirmation that progress does exist.

Tomo and Marek’s story is down-to-earth, with the black-and-white cinematography lending to its breezy French New Wave feel. It recalls Godard’s Bande a Part when the two rascals befriend a French woman, Maria (Elisa Lasowski), to form a trio. “I love you both equally,” Maria tells them. In the film’s cultural worldview, Maria stands in for the rest of the globe. She looks past Tomo and Marek’s differences, able to see them as united by their working together to make her happy. Isn’t that true of England as a country, as well?


2009

Feb
09
2009
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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