|'Nearly every character ends up as someone to strongly dislike, so spending nearly two hours in their company isn't exactly a barrel of fun'.|
The version of Catch Me Daddy screened at this year's Leeds International Film Festival contained no subtitles, something which provided a particularly large bone of contention for many in the audience. Was this a cock-up by the festival? Or had director Daniel Wolfe purposefully chosen to make the many Urdu sections of his film indecipherable to anyone who doesn't understand the language?
It turns out that, in fact, neither was exactly true: the festival should have had the subtitled version but was provided with the unsubtitled one. And, whilst this proved an unexpected frustration at the time of watching, it also raises two key points on reflection. Firstly, if it's difficult to know whether or not a director intended for a significant section of his audience to struggle through parts of his film, what does that say about his style of filmmaking overall? And secondly, as several audience members pointed out on Twitter and elsewhere following the screening, adding subtitles to sections of Catch Me Daddy would not transform it from being a film with considerable failings throughout.
One area of strength, however, is in the film's cinematography. Wolfe sets his story in a version of Yorkshire almost post-apocalyptic in its appearance, a relentlessly desolate environment curiously at odds with the way it has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Catch Me Daddy's visual style is regularly reminiscent of Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur as well as the work of Shane Meadows, blending dark and washed-out shades throughout in a striking and confident manner.
Meadows and Considine prove an apt reference point for Catch Me Daddy's narrative and thematic content as well; but where the work of those two filmmakers offers an emotional payoff to counterbalance the bleakness to which they subject us, Wolfe's film fails to justify its incessantly dismal perspective. The first act offers scenes of the mundane daily lives of teenage couple Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) and Aaron (Conor McCarron), living in hiding on a caravan in the Moors, interspersed with repetitive scenes of a gang, including Laila's brother Zaheer (Ali Ahmad), questioning locals as to whether they've seen her or Aaron; in short, a tedious and dull opening which fails to ignite much interest. Thankfully the middle section soon ramps up the adrenaline, delivering a tense and well-executed series of thrilling scenes and proving to be Catch Me Daddy's strongest section. The final act, however, manages to undo much of this good work, delivering punishing scene after punishing scene that largely feel empty of meaning and, at times, gratuitously unpleasant.
In terms of characterisation too, Wolfe also largely gets it wrong, essentially giving us nobody to root for during much of the story. There are the obviously detestable characters, such as gang leader Junaid (Anwar Hussain) and racist bouncer Barry (Barry Nunney); but the real problems come from the likes of Aaron, a character we might hope to be able to relate to who is ultimately presented as a work-shy chauvinistic drug user. Nearly every character ends up as someone to strongly dislike, so spending nearly two hours in their company isn't exactly a barrel of fun. Even Laila, for whom you would assume we should feel sympathy throughout, becomes harder and harder to care about, making Catch Me Daddy a film with which it is frustratingly difficult to make any sort of meaningful connection.
There are worthwhile themes and issues to address within Catch Me Daddy, not least the racial and cultural tensions that are still very real in Britain, as well as the ramifications of strict adherence to ideas of tradition and honour. But it's hard to state with any confidence that Wolfe actually says anything of worth about these ideas, his film's treatment of them regularly feeling more like an excuse to put repellent characters and their horrific actions on screen without actually bothering to back them up with much at all of substance.
The 28th Leeds International Film Festival took place from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. More information is available via the official LIFF website.