The opening scene in Broken features a moment of understated, sweet and gentle humour which abruptly ends in violence. It's an arresting sign of things to come, as Broken constantly and effortlessly shifts from lightness to uncomfortable despair, all the while feeling all too real. Its a deft juggling act that first time helmer (but accomplished theatre director) Rufus Norris carries off with flying colours. There are also Atonement-like shifts in the narrative where slight rewinds occur and we see the same events seen from a different perspective.
Set in a working class English suburb, the story centres on eleven year old Skunk, a bright and well-meaning girl who has a close relationship with her single father, a first love blooming with a new boy in town and a crush on one of her teachers. The real drama though is happening in her street, and in particular the house next door where the neighbours from hell are about to get a lot worse.
Much of the authenticity of the film hinges on two pivotal performances, Robert Emms, who plays a learning impaired neighbour, and Eloise Lawrence, the central character. They are both extraordinary, although the whole cast is quite perfect.
Broken won Best Film at the British Independent Film Awards last year. Like the previous year's winner, Tyrannosaur, it depicts a searing and unflinching look at the psychological effects of violence and bullying. Hopefully it won't go the way of Tyrannosaur and be so criminally ignored.