After getting fired, young single mum Beth finds herself living in her car and struggling to hide her homelessness from her estranged brother Ben. Here is Screen Critix Review of director Leena Pendharkar and writer Vivian Kerr’s ‘Scrap’.
No one quite gets to the heart of the working classes and to every exploited category and class of humanity quite like British filmmaker Ken Loach. As a Brit myself, I have been exposed to Loach’s social realism for decades; his passion and genius for exposing injustices past and present has been burnt into his film work since the early ’60s. Much like Loach, Pendharkar’s direction and Kerr’s script for their new short film ‘Scrap’ powerfully takes on the humiliations and hidden horrors that today’s poverty-stricken and ever-growing underclasses are forced into, just to make ends meet. These days, however, the underclasses are now the former middle classes, a sign in itself of just how difficult life has become. The faces may change but the problems remain the same.
‘Scrap’ is a harsh and bitter film, a long winding road towards pain that sees a good and loving single mum Beth (Vivian Kerr) forced into extreme measures in order to remain respectable, presentable and therefore employable. When we first meet Beth she is living in her car. We share her morning routine, where she flosses instead of brushes, eats cereal bars for breakfast and showers in a local gymnasium. It is never explained why Beth finds herself in this dire situation but the director’s notes tell us she has been fired. From what we have no idea, but it doesn’t matter why she is in this predicament anyway, the point is she is and we watch this nightmare unfold in front of our eyes.
Pendharkar’s methods and ideas are not subtle and are seldom seamless but she manages to make them work with their full emotional impact. Take for instance the scene in which Beth receives a phone call telling her she hasn’t got a job, in itself, this is a devastating moment but at the same time Beth is approached by a local busy body telling her to move now or he’ll call the police. This doubles the stakes and tugs at our heartstrings. It is a (thankfully) brief look into the mind-set of the current Trumpian society, those people in the viral videos we have all seen, who take the worst type of action first such as calling the police and then empathise with the victim later, if at all.
As Beth, Vivian Kerr is excellent; she manages to enthuse her character with desperation and hopelessness that is heartbreaking. For the majority of the 20-minute run time, she has to keep up appearances for job interviews and family visits, meaning she has to keep these emotions in check, it is a very focused and controlled performance. There is no soundtrack either during the short film, bar some closing credits music and this is a brave but successful choice as it helps us to focus more on the dialogue and desperate situation. There are some nice performances in the supporting cast too, with Anthony Rapp a standout as Beth’s brother who knows something is terribly wrong but just can’t figure out what.
Kerr as a writer is a skilled storyteller and Pendharkar is a fine director, they both have an uncanny ability to bring an audience along for the ride with their characters and manage to keep them with them, all the way to the bitter end.
‘Scrap’ is a contemporary tragedy that also contains a very palpable sense of how real people live, feel and struggle. A very timely and uncompromising look into the lives of those of us in society who are on the modern-day breadline.