The phrase “pure cinema” has been thrown around the cultural ether for decades. To the question “What does it mean?” a good answer might be “Go and see Catch Me Daddy.”
It’s a British film. The plot is much ado about nothing much. On the Yorkshire moors, six nasty thugs in two separate cars pursue a runaway couple at the beck of the Asian girl’s father. But the direction, by first-timer Daniel Wolfe (co-scripting with brother Matthew), and editing (Dominic Leung, Tom Lindsay) are often dazzling. And the cinephile’s brain — this cinephile’s at least — is starting to boggle at the number of films cinematographer Robbie Ryan is turning to gold, whatever their original element. He did it for Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (same location, almost same plot). He has done it for Ken Loach. In Catch Me Daddy, shooting increasingly at night as the film gathers pace and tension, his work is astonishing.
In narrative movies, “pure cinema” starts to anoint picture-making when style is inseparable from substance, when form powers or empowers content. It is literally the “picture-making” here (enhanced by an effective ragbag score from rock to rap to mood music) that achieves the emotion. The images lift the plot by the hair — a frail yet feral tale of an English boy and Asian girl hounded by an honour-mad dad — and twirl it till it screams. There are scenes of nervy comedy, one almost surreal when the girl, Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed), picks a shake in a rainbow-coloured candy shop offering blender drinks from anything you see on the shelves (so long as it doesn’t break the blender). From those we switch to moody moorland largos, or to jittery spasms of menace or violence.
Hope. Foreboding. Defiance. Fear. Remorse. A single stray close-up — a nail varnish bottle slow-spilling its milky green, a smashed glass table’s dagger fragments, a face monsterised by eerie car lights — tells a thousand words: which may be more than the script contains anyway. A film doesn’t need to speak if what we see expresses, even symphonises, what we should understand. The largely unknown cast’s performances are exactly right: mimed distillations of moments of being and feeling. As subtle nightmare-creators stepping towards the hyperreal, Daniel and Matthew Wolfe convince you they might have been apprentices to another noted pair of British artist siblings, the Chapmans. Their first film is that haunting, that original, that unplaceable.