Directed by: #RobHurtt
Written by: #RobHurtt
Edited by: #AnureeDeSilva
A strong tradition of social realism has produced some of the best and most urgent movies to come out of the British film industry over the past seventy years. While masters such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are now well-known to mainstream and some international audiences, filmmaker Rob Hurtt’s I Remember April demonstrates that the genre is still being reinvented from its roots in independent British cinema.
I Remember April – interestingly shot by Rob Hart and well-edited by Anuree de Silva – serves up some of the cold realities of life in a deprived London borough with a warm and tender smile.
On a bleak nondescript high street, Dougie (Eric Colvin), a middle-aged man in a dirty tracksuit, is confronted by Billy (Toby Alexander), to whom he owes some money. “I haven’t got it!” Despairing, Dougie can only promise to pay back tomorrow.
Plenty of gangster-movie tropes are at play here. A guy owes some money to a loan shark, but he can’t pay it back, so he’s pressured with violence.
If this were a typical gangster film, Dougie or Billy might get shot and the rest of the story might follow the winner. But Hurtt slows everything down. He’s more interested in who Dougie might be and how he might’ve ended up in the position he finds himself in.
So, he has Dougie escape and begin to tell a segment of his life story to Dave (Paul O’Shea) – a caring shopkeeper with a gentle Irish accent who’s willing to listen. Dougie has long, complex stretches of dialogue which actor Eric Colvin performs impressively and with the requisite tone and subtlety. Colvin's measured and patient delivery is tense and fascinating to watch.
Hurtt choreographs the conversation so that Dougie and Dave speak straight at the camera, as if they were talking directly to you. Dougie’s stories are of faded grandeur and loss. He used to be a boxer and used to have a beautiful wife, but there’s not much left to show for any of it now. My inkling is that a lot of us will know how it feels to be in Dave’s position, trapped with a stranger who loves talking about their own past and doesn’t care too much for the truth.
Perhaps there’s something that links this disregard for the truth with boxing, too. Boxing is a proud profession which requires unbreakable self-belief and bravado. That’s why I’ll credit Hurtt for his skilled observation when I say that I was myself once stuck for the good part of a two-hour train journey talking to a ‘former boxer’ who had a lot of Dougie about him.
It has been said that realism is by definition critical – that holding up a mirror to a broken society necessarily criticises it. This is why Dougie’s retreat into his own head is as much an interesting narrative and plot device as an important political and social critique. It begs the question, what kind of world has he retreated from? Answer: the bleak one of poverty and crime outside.
I Remember April ends with The Lovely Rain, a song performed by Society of Imaginary Friends. The song and images that accompany it allow us to reflect on the strange beauty of Dougie’s melancholy, and remind us of our own struggles and shared humanity. This sad but warming ending achieves what social-realist films should always set out to achieve – in an increasingly individualised world lacking in human connection, it makes you feel empathetic towards others.