Top 10 Welsh films: Human Traffic

John Simm, star of Justin Kerrigan's Human Traffic

Last updated: 25 May 2010

Human Traffic (1999)

Dozens of youth culture, magazine and newspaper critics have feted Human Traffic, Justin Kerrigan's springheeled feature film debut exploring the club and party scene (ostensibly in Cardiff) with élan and rich humour.

The film not merely caught the teen and 20s milieu and vernacular so familiar to its youthful writer/director but introduced us to a clutch of relatively unknown performers who seemed totally at ease as the film captured the lively, occasionally madcap leisure hours of a group sometimes high on drugs.

Human Traffic's seemingly tacit approval of the teenagers' Ecstasy intake stirred a little controversy but even the critics' misgivings often seemed tentative as if they too were disarmed by the film's unflagging goodwill - and even that film reviewer doyen the Observer's Philip French joined in the plaudits. Even if the film's characters are under the influence of tablets or alcohol-experienced downers, the checks on their careening progress through life seem almost fleeting.

Human Traffic demonstrates the director's gift for banter, and trademark interior monologues, sometimes self-deprecating but often hilarious when revealing the gap between the characters' aspirations and achievements and how we see them and how they view themselves. The film certainly gave career impetus to its narrator and star John Simm.

Interior monologues were presented with increasing aplomb and sophisticated pace of delivery in a succession of short films Kerrigan made at Newport Film School from the early 1990s (some screened on BBC Wales). They prepared us, to an extent, for what to expect here, but not, perhaps for the confident rhythm and use of diverse locations.

One small regret is that references to Cardiff, both in location visuals and dialogue, were relatively few as if the filmmakers and/or distributors hadn't quite the confidence to present a distinctive Welsh view of the world (one bit of badinage in a Canton, Cardiff chip shop, doth not a Welsh film make).

Kerrigan gave ample indication in Human Traffic of a talent the nation cannot afford to neglect. Maybe it is time for the filmmaker to work more variations on his predilection for the inner voice and to move into other profitable areas of humour.

Kerrigan strove to do this with his uneven semi-autobiographical black comedy I Know You Know (2008). The film bore signs of creative interference but offered Robert Carlyle as a father prone to fantasies and on the perpetual edge of permanent breakdown, one of his finest roles, especially with its heartfelt climax.

Kerrigan has a satirical, gently wry take on the world and its pretensions. Distributors, companies and other agencies who try to stifle his flamboyance and ability to convey the mechanics of male camaraderie may do so to everybody's detriment.


BBC Film

Mark Kermode

The bigger picture

Reviews, features and interviews from around the BBC.

Making movies

Film reel

BBC Films

Past and forthcoming releases from the BBC's film-making arm.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.