Palm Trees and Powerlines – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Jamie Dack and Audrey Findlay

Director: Jamie Dack

It is power that makes men prey on young girls, the enjoyment of their compliance and subservience, but they employ an arsenal of tricks to do it. Jamie Dack’s new film Palm Trees and Powerlines with Audrey Findlay, showing at the BFI London Film Festival 2022, puts 17-year-old Lea at its centre, exploring grooming and coercive control from the perspective of a shy young woman and the gradual disconnection from people and places of safety that she thinks happens willingly.

After her friends decide to run away from a local diner without paying, Lea meets a man she knows only as Tom. 34 to her 17, a friendship develops as Lea starts to feel alienated from her group of friends and mum whose series of boyfriends take over the home. Tom’s attraction to her seems and feels real, and as the summer passes, Lea falls for him, pushing away her few doubts, hoping this man will rescue her.

Dack’s debut film smartly acknowledges how difficult it is to be a teenage girl and the very credible sequence of events that builds an attachment to Tom. By placing her camera close to Lea, as Director, Dack captures her perspective entirely, and creating what feels like a joyous summer romance. For a long time, there is a coming-of-age quality to Palm Trees and Powerlines that on the surface looks at the transition to womanhood from drinking with friends, shy flirting and first kisses to decisive sexual encounters, although Dack is tasteful in only dramatising a couple of these, avoiding gratuity by not focusing principally on the sexual relationship between Lea and Tom, but the romantic attachment she forms and he encourages.

But underneath this, there is a quiet despair that notes Lea’s lack of opportunity, a disengagement with her mother who has her own relationship issues, a shift in the tone of her friendships and a relatively barren environment in which Lea has little to do. Into this world comes Tom where Dack builds the credibility of their interaction so well, to the point where they almost convince the audience that what he feels for her is real, making the conclusion all the more shocking. But it really helps to understand how grooming happens and why young women are at risk.

Lily McInerny gives an astonishing performance as Lea, full of maturity and understanding but reflecting Lea’s innocence, that teenage desire to be an adult and to feel special to someone, especially when boys her own age seem so inadequate. The romanticism in Lea is very appealing and McInerny is superb as the reality dawns. Likewise, Jonathan Tucker plays Tom as all charm and at ease with their apparent love. This isn’t an obvious performance in any way, Tom isn’t pushy, demanding or physical with Lea, and instead seems nurturing and protective of Lea but that is all the more terrifying and Tucker shows the complexity of the techniques men like Tom utilise.

Palm Trees and Powerlines is never an easy watch and only becomes increasingly difficult as the film unfolds. There is a scene of non-consensual sex which is all the more horrifying for its quiet and non-violent approach which Dack doesn’t shy away from. And it is an important statement about the complicated nature of consent and resistance. A tough but important film that will leave the viewer desperate to intervene and frustrated by our powerlessness to do so.

Palm Trees and Powerlines is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022. 

The Reviews Hub Score:

Horrifying but important

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The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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