A meditation on maternity and mourning, John Jenck’s The Fold finds a strange kind of love in this muddled would-be thriller.
Tainted Love by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Taking its title from the poem I Am Too Alone by Rainer Maria Rilke, John Jenck’s Cornish-set feature debut The Fold is a poetic look at grief, love and loneliness. Centred around the lines “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere because where I am folded, there I am a lie”, the film takes for its subject a female Anglican priest whose grief for her recently drowned teenage daughter leaves her vulnerable to a warped mother-daughter relationship with Bulgarian immigrant Radka. Referring not only to the fold of her parish congregation but also to the fold of her loss, which opens her up to a lying relationship and closes her off from true healing and a real relationship with her other daughter Eloise, The Fold is a gentle look at mourning and the soul-crumpling effects of grief.
Eleven months after her daughter drowns in a swimming pool after a party, reverend Rebecca Ashton (Catherine McCormack) decides to up sticks to Cornwall with her younger daughter Eloise (Dakota Blue Richards) to look after the remote parish of St Piran’s and start a new life. Her husband remains behind, coming down to the coast at weekends as mother and daughter try to fit into their new community. As Eloise befriends the local migrant workers bonding over music and a fledgling romance with Lukas as they discover the coastline together, Rebecca starts work at the local drop-in centre, where after refusing any pastoral role in favour of taking on a backlog of admin, she volunteers to teach English to Radka (Marina Stoimenova), who reminds her of her late daughter. Becoming more and more involved in Radka’s residency situation, Rebecca becomes entangled in a twisted relationship with the wayward teen, until jealousy threatens to rip her wounded family apart.
With its story of an immigrant from Bulgaria, The Fold offers a highly contemporary look at the UK’s tangled relationship with European politics. But with its bucolic vision of folk singing and fiddle-playing travellers living in caravans in a forest clearing and helping out with Cornwall’s daffodil harvest, Jenck’s film also offers a very romanticised view of life as an immigrant labourer. And while it opens a discourse on how native and immigrant communities can better live together (pragmatically based on mutual need), The Fold doesn’t quite know how to treat its minorities, their foreign language squabbling and aggression turning Radka’s character into an unknown and unpredictable Other, while relegating her story to a thriller-style vignette in the superior narrative arc of grieving mother and daughter coming together and slowly overcoming their loss. Music in the end, it seems, is the only thing that can bring the communities together, as violin-playing daughter Eloise makes music with the local daffodil pickers – a precarious harmony in this divided world.
Scripted by Poppy Cogan, John Jencks’ debut film is built around a very female microcosm of relationships – between mother and daughters (whether alive, dead or surrogate) as well as the reverend’s maternalistic role as the shepherdess of her flock. But despite exceptional performances from both Catherine McCormack and Dakota Blue Richards, who are both given their own story arcs and moments to shine, The Fold‘s feminist message remains something of a mystery, as Rebecca’s desire to fill the void left by her late daughter with guardianship over Radka is confused by jealousy and violence. A veil is drawn over the deeper, darker questions posed in The Fold, as Rebecca tries to overcome her feelings of loss, with idyllic images of the Cornish landscape. And while the film tries to enter the dark heart of a mother’s grief, its thriller-style plotting makes no room for the emotional development it’s striving for, finding resolution instead in repaired family relationships, as in the final sequence Eloise’s parents come to the migrant workers’ cabin in the woods to listen to their daughter play.
Beautifully filmed and acted, John Jenck’s The Fold is a well crafted piece of filmmaking; it’s haunting and sensitive, even if it relies more on the poetry of its images rather than the power of its story. As a thriller it could be darker. As a kitchen-sink drama on migration it could be more political. And as a meditation on grief it could be more emotional. But with delicate yet forceful performances from its two leads and a litany of beautiful Cornish landscapes, The Fold is a daring piece of independent filmmaking, not afraid to unfold.
The Fold is released on 28th March 2014 in the UK