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Low Down, The (2000)

Courtesy of Channel Four International

Main image of Low Down, The (2000)
35mm, 96min, colour
DirectorJamie Thraves
Presented byFilmfour
 British Screen
ProducersJohn Stewart
 Sally Llewellyn
ScreenplayJamie Thraves
CinematographyIgor Jadue-Lillo

Cast: Aidan Gillen (Frank); Kate Ashfield (Ruby); Dean Lennox Kelly (Mike); Tobias Menzies (John); Rupert Procter (Terry)

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In his late twenties, Frank is faced with the need to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. When he meets Ruby, an estate agent, the two begin an affair, but Ruby soon finds Frank's attitude towards life hard to deal with.

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The Low Down begins with a group of twenty-somethings slouched round a London flat, shooting the breeze and sharing a hangover. Heads are held, conversation stutters and soon mild hysteria sets in. This scene effectively sets the tone for a film which has the lazy, disconnected charm of a lost Sunday morning.

Jamie Thraves' debut feature is a slacker romance set in Hackney that revels in the mundane detail of its unglamorous locations: kerbside rubbish bags, illuminated Halal Meat signs and scaffolding. Its grungy milieu invites comparison with similarly downbeat visions of the capital found in Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland (1998) and Simon Cellan Jones' Some Voices (1999).

This is a film low on conventional dramatic tension but high on atmosphere and character. Its narrative structure is loose and open-ended, the story meanders towards an equivocal ending which leaves the fate of the central love story unresolved. Such characteristics are famillar markers of European art cinema, and Thraves' influences are clearly signposted. Bedroom sequences echo Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout de souffle (1960), as does the persistent jump-cutting; even the soundtrack features a strong gallic flavour thanks to repeated use of accordion music. And when the couple go on a date, they chose to see Fassbinder's Fear Eats The Soul (1974).

These highbrow references are perhaps best understood as the struggle of a young filmmaker attempting to outgrow the tag of 'music video director'. In fact, Thraves' distinctive promo for Radiohead's 'Just' (1995) was an influential forerunner of the trend towards ambitious, art-infected videos which characterised late 1990s MTV. But like his contemporaries Jake Scott (Plunkett and Macleane, 1999) and Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, 2000), Thraves was keen to produce work for the big screen, and a series of prize-winning shorts proved his mettle. Admittedly, The Low Down has a far smaller budget than those bestowed upon Scott and Glazer, provided by British Screen and Film Four Lab, an offshoot of the broadcaster's successful film financing enterprise designed to foster innovative work.

The Low Down paints an unflattering portrait of contemporary masculinity. Its unlikely hero, Frank, is at best enigmatic, at worst inarticulate, aimless and frustrated. He toys with the idea of buying a flat, but mortgages scare him. Before long his estate agent girlfriend Ruby starts to scare him too. At the end of the film, his mate Mike announces that he's getting married. Frank smiles, but doesn't say anything.

James Caterer

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Video Clips
1. Hungover (3:11)
2. The estate agent (2:20)
3. A walk in the park (2:57)
4. Dropping by (3:24)
Freeman, Martin (1971-)
Channel 4 Films/Film on Four/FilmFour