Somers Town (2009)

by George Watches Things

This week’s 2009 film is Somers Town. It’s available via Netflix Instant. Spoilers below.

Somers Town is a simple story with a simple beginning: two teenagers (one from Nottingham and one from Poland) are London’s most recent residents. Each is an outsider and each carries around their own dramatic stakes. Also: Somers Town is a black-and-white film.

In the beginning of the film, we see Tomo arrive from the Midlands via train. The train station is just a few blocks from Marek’s new residence, where his only human contact outside of his father is with the creepy neighbor, Graham.

The film, in just over an hour, manages to bring Tomo and Marek together and develop a friendship between them. The way they’re pushed together is entirely plausible, too. Tomo, after spending the night bloodied (from a brutal attack), and homeless, finds the fellow Nottinghammer he met on the train, and she buys him breakfast. Since Marek lives in the same area, he’s at the same café. Once the woman leaves, Tomo sees Marek looking at some pictures of a gorgeous woman, and takes a seat next to him.

The woman is Maria, a waitress at the café. Tomo, after seeing her in person the next day, develops a minor feeding fantasy (similar to Ezra Miller in City Island) that is quite funny. In fact, the way the boys guffaw at her in general is very amusing.

Tomo and Marek have now become friends. In fact, Marek hides Tomo under his bed overnight. He doesn’t tell his father, because he is often drunk and just wouldn’t understand. Marek and his father have a nice, authentic back-and-forth when he isn’t drunk, but it’s clear that Marek is made uncomfortable by him and his drinking buddies when they have alcohol.

Tomo was robbed during his beating, so, of course, the film needs to find him some clothes. Its solution: they steal some from a laundermat. Some of the jokes and gags during those scenes were funny, but their friendship was the most important thing on display. Thanks to it, the stakes temporarily melted, and everyone involved (including me) felt free. The black-and-white also helped part of the film feel dreamlike or blissfully hazy.

Tomo and Marek pick up Maria from work in her own pumpkin chariot (a wheelchair with flowers and a ringing bell), and what follows is a lovely musical montage of them pushing her home. She kisses them both, tells them she loves them equally, then walks into her apartment house. Later, it is revealed she has gone back home to Paris because of an ailing family member.

Somers Town is a touching coming-of-age drama, but is also quite hilarious. The comedy feels alive and improvised, while the dramatic moments are carefully scripted. This offers a nice, balanced feel. No words are wasted, and this might account for the short running time.

It doesn’t need a long, drawn-out plot, and it doesn’t need twists and turns. It’s just a simple, real story. (Part of the reason that it’s in black-and-white is that the story… much like friendship… is timeless.) Near the end, the characters plot a trip to Paris. The film doesn’t need to take us there, because doing so would be extremely impractical. And the film doesn’t. Not technically.

Somers Town ends with a color vision of a trip between Tomo and Marek to Paris, and I don’t think it is real. It’s probably what they imagine it would be like or what they would want it to be like. In it, they’re reunited with Maria and everyone is happy. But we know as well as they do that nothing could happen between either of them and Maria. They’re just really good friends. Maria is one of them… an outsider in a vast city. At the end of the day, Somers Town is a story about people in need finding each other.

Halfway through the film, when Marek catches Tomo “enjoying” his photos of Maria, Tomo claims, “I’m lonely.” Sure, it’s a funny and light moment, but his words have an inherent truth behind them. He was lonely. But, thanks to Marek, Maria, and even Graham, it’s no longer a valid excuse.

My rating: ***½

Funny quotes and other notes:

  • Marek’s dad got really excited about his train ride.
  • We didn’t really need any more color, did we?
  • When I praise the dramatic moments, I include the moments between Marek and his father after Marek and Tomo trash the place.
  • The loved the resolution to Tomo’s housing situation.
  • “Let’s get slaughtered.” “Yeah, why not?”
  • “What’s that, grandma’s raincoat?”

Next time: Inglourious Basterds (not available on Netflix Instant)

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