This taut, quiet film drops you into the lives of three families living in a cul-de-sac in North London. The story centers on a girl who witnesses the brutal beating of one of her neighbors. That incident sets in motion a series of events with dire conclusions.
Did you immediately see the similarities between this contemporary story and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird?
I did. I know TKAM very well, and immediately recognized the basic family arrangements and names. To be honest, the similarities for me are limited, particularly when you dig into it, and I was glad for that. Harper Lee’s book (and the film version) are both pretty untouchable I think, so a more faithful attempt to update that story would be a questionable exercise! Broken has its own very different and more modern look at the world. After the first read I almost forgot about the connection, and I doubt many people would see it unless it was pointed out. Which I guess we’re doing now!
Despite the brutal acts that occur, the film retains a calmness. Was that purposeful, contrasting the violence with childhood free-spiritedness?
Absolutely. The heartbeat of the story and I hope the film is Skunk, a 12-year-old girl, and she is both optimistic and open. Her character and positivity is intended to be a total counterbalance to the harsher aspects of the story. I don’t like violence and darkness for the sake of it, without respite. The dark only has beauty and power when something is illuminated within it.
The three families are simply neighbors yet they end up having a huge influence over each other’s lives. Was it difficult to weave their individual stories into one comprehensive piece?
That challenge was of course undertaken by Daniel Clay, the writer of the book, and then compressed and made fit for the screen by Mark O’Rowe. People often have very interwoven lives, more so than we as individuals can see, I suspect. What was challenging for me as the director was to create a tone and a dynamic progression where the acceleration of incidents in this small corner is believable. It’s not really drama in the social realism way, as it is far-fetched to think that their stories could interweave to such effect on one night. My intention was to slightly heighten this world to tell the story in a way that makes it, as you say, a comprehensive whole.
Broken screens on Sat., Feb., 2, 1:20 p.m., at the Metro 4.