Ray & Liz ★★★½

Petty antagonisms and pranks among Britain’s poor provide the fodder for photographer Richard Billingham’s feature film debut. A film that’s at once nostalgic yet clear-eyed about the shortcomings of the long-gone situation, Ray & Liz doesn’t let its affection get in the way of its repulsion. Structured almost as a series of short stories, it centers largely on presenting a casually neglectful parental situation, that I assume is at least somewhat autobiographical. Billingham’s compositions in Academy ratio naturally suggest a photographer’s eye, but what most impresses is his gift for scene construction. One sequence, in particular, involving a secret cache of liquor unfolds with such an incrementally escalating sense of danger that I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen it come from Mike Leigh. The rest is almost as impressive.