There will be other shots like it, which lend a fable-like quality to what is, nevertheless, a contemporary, recognisable and very bleak world.
This is a tough, tragic tale, which evokes less Oscar Wilde's children's story than Kes, Ken Loach's seminal account of a victimised Yorkshire boy who finds brief happiness when he takes care of a kestrel. Loach's film was set in Barnsley, Bernard's is in Bradford; both feature young characters whose spirit and suffering are heartbreaking.
Thirteen-year-old Arbor (Conner Chapman) is a handful, a rambunctious, rebellious lad who needs medication for a hyperactive disorder. Like many such sufferers, he never takes the pills, preferring to have his full, chaotic capabilities; ironically, his drug addict half-brother steals them. Life for their single mother isn't easy.
In contrast, Arbor's friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas) is calm, warm, slow to anger, unwilling to get into trouble. These unlikely best friends even look like chalk and cheese - Arbor small, fair, wiry, impossible to shut up; Swifty taller, heavier, slower in thought and deed. Yet their conditions are exactly the same, living on an estate where the men are unemployed and emotionally useless, the women coping as best they can, opportunities and luxuries virtually non-existent.
When Arbor and Swifty are expelled from school, Arbor sees an opportunity - to go to work for local scrap dealer Kitten (Sean Gilder) and earn some cash. Starting with an abandoned pram, then progressing to one of Kitten's horse-and-cart set-ups, the boys start scavenging in the streets and abandoned factories of this de-industrialised hinterland.
Director Clio Bernard is capturing a world in the north of England that very much exists, including the shadier element of the scrap metal business that exploits young kids. Kitten welcomes the illegal items, notably cabling, that the boys steal for him, metallic detritus with a huge value. It seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement, but like that between Fagin and his artful dodgers, it's far from equitable.
Adding colour to the story is Swifty's skill with horses, which encourages Kitten to choose him to ride his favoured horse in a horse-and-cart road race that is also a real part of this local world. One of the film's highlights is such a race, horses galloping down the motorway while cars whizz past them.
In her first feature, The Arbor, which told of the life of northern, working-class playwright Andrea Dunbar, Bernard had her actors lip-synch to the recorded statements of Dunbar's family and friends. The result was an original, highly stylised work, balanced somewhere between documentary and fiction.
The Selfish Giant is more conventional, sitting in that social-realist mode used by Loach, the Dardenne brothers and Peter Mullan, in which naturalistic performances and an unsentimental gaze offer a truthful view of marginalised parts of society. Bernard proves to be a dab hand, combining professional actors (Gilder, Paddy Maguire in Shameless) and newcomers (the boys) with skill and sensitivity, while commenting on social injustice without getting preachy.
The young actors give vital, lovely, flesh-and-blood performances. As Arbor, Shaun Thomas reminds me of the extraordinary Thomas Doret from the Dardennes's The Kid With A Bike. As in that film, Thomas bravely offers a character who isn't easy to like, yet whose challenge on our sympathies makes his hard-won grace all the more affecting.