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Columns / Social Realism

by Jaap Mees


Social realism is a more overtly political type of realism, which is critical of society and is marked by it's realistic depiction of social problems.

The British have a respectable reputation in social realism film making. Directors like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh are the most well known for this gritty and rather bleak genre.

Recent examples of social realism are Sweet Sixteen by Loach about a 16 year old boy (a superb Martin Copston), whose mother is in prison. He is badly treated by his stepfather, a hard hitting film with a fatalistic ending. I haven't seen Leigh's last film All Or Nothing yet, but his Secret and Lies and Naked are strong examples. Gillies Mackinnon made Pure about a young single junkie mother, whose ten year old boy (excellent David Wenham) tries to help her to conquer her addiction. A very impressive, well written and directed film.

Some people say the English are the best in making social realism and period costume films, as far removed from each other, as let's say Kes is to Howards End. The strength of social realistic films is that they deal with important issues in a sincere way, but what very often is missing is a sense of humour, warmth, imagination and a glimmer of hope.

After seeing Sweet Sixteen I felt depressed and made my stomach hurt, while a neo- realist classic like Bicycle Thieves by De Sica, also dealing with the dispossessed , makes you feel happy to be alive.