Austin Film Festival Review: Undercliffe
British mystery probes the identity of a man and a town
By Richard Whittaker,
10:45PM, Sun. Oct. 28, 2018
A man wakes up on a hillside, covered in bruises, unsure of who he is. The setup may feel like a super-indie Memento, but Undercliffe stands with one foot in the grimy crime traditions of Get Carter and the other in gritty kitchen sink dramas like This Is England and This Sporting Life.
It's not that Stevie (Laurie Kynaston, most recently seen as Johnny Marr in Morrissey biopic England is Mine) is a blank slate: He's himself, just with massive slices of his world missing. He is a man out of context, which is a much more accurate representation of amnesia from trauma than the Hollywood idea of a reset button. But it becomes pretty clear that, whoever he is, Stevie was not a good person: Everyone who recognizes him flinches or takes the opportunity to get their own kicks in while he's down. The slow reconstruction – a place or a word or an item putting a brick back in the wall – builds the portrait of a young man. It may just be a picture he doesn't like, one riddled with violence and shame.
But it's also a portrait of a community. Bradford is Britain's fourth largest city; a center of the Victorian textile industry that has never again reached those heights; a cultural center that is insulated by geography and history; a massively diverse city that is both integrated and divided, where residents will boast about having some of the best curry restaurants in the world, but then complain about the huge population of Indian and Pakistani descent. That Stevie's rescuers are Asian and their accents are pure West Yorkshire speaks more to integration and alienation than any flat polemic ever could.
Working from a script by Bruce McLeod (The War Boys), director Lisa Mulcahy wends a dark path of realization for Stevie as he attempts to reconnect, across a matter of days, with his father (Mark Addy) and sister (Esme Creed-Miles). Questions of identity, contrition, and redemption are played out with nuanced realism and heartbreaking subtlety in Stevie's eyes, and against the hills and stones of a city that barely knows itself.
UndercliffeMon. Oct. 29, 3:15pm, Galaxy Highland
Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 25 - Nov. 1. Tickets and info at austinfilmfestival.com.
Find more of our AFF coverage, including news, reviews, and interviews, at austinchronicle.com/AFF.