Saturday, June 25, 2011

A rain-swept valley and two lines of sheep

I have been watching the DVD of Gideon Koppel's acclaimed film sleep furiously (2009), a remarkably poetic documentary shot over the course of a year around the faming village of Trefeurig in Wales, where the filmaker grew up.  Koppel has said 'I wanted to make a film in which moments of intimacy and human gesture became juxtaposed with the infinite space and time of the landscape. I think about the landscape of sleep furiously as an ‘internal landscape’: it has a quality of childhood about it.' The film has the soft light and muted colours of childhood memories (rather like Tarkovsky's polaroids).  At the end of the BBC interview below Koppel explains his preference for using film because it can evoke a world, like paint.  A landscape on a big screen shot in HD video "works like a signifier - it says very strongly: 'this is a beautiful landscape', but that's all it does. The same landscape shot on film allows the audience to engage with that image through their imagination."

There may be nothing new in breaking off from scenes of people interacting to show, for a few seconds, a panoramic landscape like a gently moving painting (as in Werner Herzog), or in holding a camera steady while a car makes its way slowly across the screen and into the distance (Kiarostami), but each time Gideon Koppel does this in sleep furiously it seems fresh and original.  A practice session for the village choir is intercut with shots of an epic landscape of shadowy hills, drifting clouds and crepuscular rays on a distant sea - it sounds too obvious but the effect is genuinely moving, and the sequence concludes modestly with the choir leader's verdict: "well done... at least we have an end now."  John Banville, writing of another landscape in sleep furiously, says 'one of the most beautiful and mysteriously affecting sequences is shot from a high mountainside down into a rain-swept valley into which two lines of sheep straggle slowly from different directions to form a kind of ragged magic square. It is the inexplicable beauty of these images that one remembers long after the screen has gone dark.'

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