Dutch director Sacha Polak set a very high bar for herself with Hemel, her 2012 debut feature. Raw and at times agonizing, Hemel is a profile of a young woman careening through her life with violent abandon. Polak’s fourth feature, Silver Haze, doesn’t achieve the emotional highs and lows of her debut, but it’s the first that even comes close. Working again with Vicky Knight, star of her last film, Dirty God, Polak delves into the lonely, desultory lives of working-class women in Britain, where to have any expectation for warmth and kindness is to set oneself up for bitter disappointment.
Franky, a twenty-something nurse who (like Knight herself) survived a fire and wears her burn scars in almost punk-rock defiance, lives with her mom and sister in a cramped council flat. One night during her shift, Franky treats Florence (Esmé Creed-Miles), a brash, bitter woman who has just attempted suicide. They bond, quickly becoming friends and then lovers. “I’m a bad person,” Florence warns Franky early on, and while Silver Haze refrains from judging its deeply damaged characters, Polak is also sending up a warning flare. For Florence, forming an emotional connection offers her a way to externalize her self-hatred, punishing anyone who risks caring about her.
Franky and Leah live in the shadow of the accident that nearly killed them, believing it to have been done deliberately by their father’s new wife. They stalk dad’s new family, furious that he has abandoned them, although as we learn, the situation is a bit more complex. Ultimately, Silver Haze is a tough film to evaluate, because Polak’s narrative structure moves in fits and starts, just like the borderline personalities of its subjects. People suddenly move in with other families, or torpedo their relationships for no apparent reason, or (in Leah’s case) convert to Islam, seemingly on a whim. The disgusting behavior of young men is taken to be a fact of life, as immutable as the weather. In a way, Silver Haze confounds traditional notions of characterization and cause-and-effect, because its working-class heroines are seldom able to rise above the chaos that engulfs them. It’s an unstable film about instability, and as such it is gripping and maddening in equal measure.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 7.5.