Sweet Sixteendir. Ken Loach

Starts Fri June 13 at Metro Cinemas.

Now that Ken Loach's amazing film Sweet Sixteen has taken its bows at SIFF, it will undoubtedly vanish from America's shores with only a handful of non-festival viewers--such is the ridiculous incline tiny, quiet movies are forced to hike once they are cast off from the festival circuit. But before it vanishes, I highly recommend you seek it out, if for no other reason than a wiry, heartbreaking young actor named Martin Compston, whose performance will match any you see this year.

Filmed in English, but tattooed with subtitles to help us tin-eared Americans muddle our way through the characters' heavy Scottish accents, Sweet Sixteen offers Compston as a young punk named Liam, whose shattered mother, Jean (Michelle Coulter), is currently serving time in prison after taking a fall for her drug-dealing mate Stan (Gary McCormack). Early on in the film, Liam and Stan, along with Liam's grandfather, make a trek to the prison for a visit, and in the parking lot Stan orders Liam to tuck packets of heroin into his cheeks. Liam resists, but the threat of a quick pounding forces him to acquiesce. Once inside, Stan's plan is dunderheaded and hasty: He will spill a cup of coffee and create a scene, during which Liam will plant a kiss on his mother and transfer the goods. Never mind just how fucked up said kiss would need to be in order to make the transfer, Liam rejects the plan on more important (and less creepy) grounds, as his mother getting caught hawking dope would extend her stretch in jail.

This moment of defiance by Liam kicks Sweet Sixteen's thin plot into motion, for after refusing to make the transfer, he is quickly hammered by both his grandfather and Stan, and kicked out of the family slum. Seeking refuge in the flat of his sister Chantelle (Annmarie Fulton), he strikes a deal with his sibling, who is a young mother: If he helps with his nephew, he can stay. Liam is obviously enamored with his sister's "wee one," and for a brief glimmer there appears to be hope for some sort of normalcy in his life, as Liam, free from the nefarious Stan and his grandfather, makes an effort to cobble together a family life for him, his sister, and his mother once his mother is released. Cruising around in a stolen car with his best friend, Pinball (William Ruane), he comes across a trailer for sale for the seemingly unobtainable price of $6,000, and he sets his mind to owning it, creating a scheme that will take him from petty crimes into the lucrative, and eventually disastrous, realm of smack dealing.

With his usual unobtrusive camera, Loach has spackled together an intimate portrait of poverty and family in Sweet Sixteen. The interiors and exteriors of Glasgow, where the film is set, are one big blemish, coated in grime and yet surprisingly comfortable--much like many families--and the film's inhabitants, from Liam on down, freely drape themselves about the area. Their lives are bleak, but it is all they know and they have made the most of it. Liam, however, wants something more. The pain in Sweet Sixteen comes from knowing that he doesn't realize that he can't really have it. His life is what it is, no matter his scheme.

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