Directed by: Paul Morrisson
Starring: Ioan Gruffud, Nia Roberts, Sue Jones-davies, William Thomas
In terms of both concept and execution, it is hard to fault writer-director Paul Morrisson's debut film, Solomon and Gaenor. Nor can the film be accused of not being daring in a number of areas. That is both its great strength and its central problem, because -- as brilliantly made as it is -- Solomon and Gaenor is such a downer that the viewer is left with a feeling of uncompromised deflation. Not only are there no happy endings on the horizon, there is simply no sense of any kind of positive change: No comfort is afforded the characters and no real lessons are learned by them. They are merely subjected by society to their fates. The film works on the time-honored concept of star-crossed lovers, a premise that has inevitably caused it to be compared to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet -- though D.W. Griffith's silent classic, Broken Blossoms, is actually nearer the mark with its tale of lovers divided by race. Morrisson uses this approach in Solomon and Gaenor, but he transfers the setting and the concerns to a 1911 Welsh mining community and makes the characters a young Jewish fabric salesman, Solomon (Ioan Gruffud), and a local Christian girl, Gaenor (Nia Roberts), who meet and fall in love. Morrison's concerns in the matter seem more pointed toward religion than race. Though the film paints a grim picture of anti-Semitism, Morrisson refuses to take the easy way out. In the end, the gentile characters come off as more sympathetic and capable of change than the Jewish ones -- who remain utterly intractable in their views. Solomon and Gaenor comes down hard on both Judaism and Christianity, depicting the religions as cold, unfeeling and ultimately destructive. The ideals and beliefs of both are presented as callously concerned with the dictates of frequently illogical thought over common decency. Solomon's family cares far more for their abstract traditions than the reality of their own son: His father tells him that if he marries Gaenor, he will be dead to them. Solomon's mother, generally depicted in a caring and sympathetic manner, even refuses to accept that the child Gaenor is carrying is her grandchild, and insists on holding to the belief that Solomon and Gaenor's love is merely a passing youthful fancy. At the same time, Gaenor's religion isn't much better. She is publicly disgraced in church, and bluntly informed that her child will be taken away from her. There is simply nothing of comfort to be gleaned from any aspect of religion as depicted in this uncompromosingly grim story. Ultimately, this examination of religious intolerance is the point of the film, and if this point is overlooked or minimized, all the viewer is left with is an unpleasant story devoid of meaning. For the viewer willing to grapple with the film's uncomfortable nature, Solomon and Gaenor is a most worthwhile work. It also features one of the most beautifully realized uses of natural lighting seen in a film in recent history, thanks to the gorgeous cinematography of Nina Kellgren. The images in the film contain a vibrant freshness -- a beautifully simple, sometimes delicate, sometimes startling look and feel that is far more memorable and effective than the technically polished state-of--the-art "perfection" that afflicts so many films these days. The visuals, in fact, perfectly complement the story and its own uncompromised nature.