In my last post I mentioned the fast approaching Cambridge Film Festival, one of the highlights of my year. Among the many reasons I love the festival so much is that it affords the opportunity for discovering some real cinematic gems. I can still vividly remember being mesmerised by Guy Maddin’s DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY at the festival some years ago; and the excitement of discovering Jos Stelling’s films at last year’s festival.
I have just re-watched a film that, should I feel inclined to list my all-time favourite CFF discoveries, would certainly be one of the first to be added: Gideon Koppel’s SLEEP FURIOUSLY. When I booked the ticket for this film I was not expecting much: this documentary about a rural Welsh community was just a convenient filler for a free slot in my festival timetable. How wrong I was. What I was witness to was in fact a very personal, perfectly crafted, affectionate portrait of a community; a film that was not about narrative, but about establishing a sense of place, where the everyday is revealed as poetic; a subtle, carefully observed piece full of warm humour. As David Fear says in Time Out New York “all the better to awaken you to the beauty that lurks in the mundane”. I fell in love with this film.
I was not alone. Mark Cousins was reported as saying that it was:-
pure cinema: visually alert, brilliantly musical, and moving.
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian called it a “delicate, tonally complex film”. He also spotted a similarity to one of my favourite documentary makers:-
The film has richness and an unshowy compassion, its grammar and pace adjusting to the tempo of the countryside. It reminds me of work by French film-makers such as Nicolas Philibert and Raymond Depardon.
I love his description of:-
…the beauty of what Koppel’s camera finds: the shape of flapping sheets on a washing line mimics the distant quilt of fields. Overhead shots show two insect-trails of sheep, parted as if by an obstructive pebble, and then reunited. A plough methodically cuts a triangular hunk from a field. Juxtaposed with these moments are understated gestures of human comedy.
David Jenkins in a Time Out London piece writes:-
Maybe it’s unintentional, but that notion – of an unfathomable harmony between chaos and stability – permeates every scene of this wonderful film: a tubby fellow in a yellow baseball cap struggles to herd sheep, but his strained efforts deliver a mesmerising, rustic ballet for Koppel’s sympathetic camera. Sheep saunter across a rain-drizzled mountainside, but, remarkably, their strict formation begins to form beautiful abstract shapes on the landscape. There’s an intensely moving shot of a female choir conductor as she delivers musical cues through wild facial movements: as a kind of punchline, she rolls her eyes as the choir reaches the end of the piece.
He rounds off with:-
It never rests on tweeness or sarcasm and the sheer ingenuity of the filmmaking produces something altogether deeper, moodier, more compassionate and joyful. The lilting strains of Aphex Twin work wonders on the soundtrack, as does the abrupt, consistently surprising editing, which effortlessly transports the viewer from place to place, life to life. This is as fully formed and unique a debut movie as you could ever hope to see.