Have you ever seen a newborn baby sleeping in its cot, in fast-motion? Have you ever seen a piglet dropping from its mother's womb? Have you ever seen a film in which the director's half-blind mother is featured prominently, seen walking her dog, washing the dishes, putting clothes on the line? I'll bet that the answer to all (or most) off those questions is "No, what the hell are you on about?" All these curios, and many, many more are featured in Sleep Furiously, a new documentary from Wales-raised wonderkid Gideon Koppel. However, this is NOT your average documentary.
The tone is set immediately in the memorable opening scene, in which we see an old farmer (who we never see again in the film) walking a sheep-dog, mumbling to himself, on a long, narrow, empty road. It is never explained who he is, or where he's walking to, but that's the point, and it is what you will have to deal with for the next 93 minutes. Although there are central characters, (Koppel's mother, the mobile-librarian) Sleep Furiously is mostly narrative-free. We see a number of seemingly pointless or ordinary conversations - between four bubbly old ladies, between two farmers - that, for the first hour or so, seem to make you wonder how or why they weren't left on the cutting-room floor. But as the film goes on, it is made clearer and clearer what the subject is, and once you realize what it is, it hits you like a ten-tonne pig.
No, this isn't a nature documentary, a wildlife film or anything like that; it is a film about people, about a dying community, about a village so isolated from the so-called "normal" world, that it really makes you wonder - what is normal? Because normal for them is Trefeurig, this tightly-knit farming community, and it is their life. It is thanks to the director that the film paints such a vivid picture of a village that's slowly fading. In early scenes we see a classroom and their music teacher. However, the class is of all different ages from 5 to 11 (recalling Nicolas Phillibert's similarly-themed masterpiece, Etre et Avoir), because these twelve children are the only pupils left in this tiny mid-Wales school. Another central stringing-theme is the mobile library, which travels, door-to-door, to deliver books to their friends. It is in sub-plots like these that you really get to the core of Koppel's film. These are real people, close friends and family, and they're happy - why should the school, or the village hall, or the local shop be closed down? That is what shapes the village, and it is what defines a certain type of culture that city people tend to think was left back in the 20th century.
Thanks to gorgeous landscape photography (self-made by the director) and a sumptuous music score by Cornish indies Aphex Twin, Koppel's film is a haunting, beautiful, mesmerising experience, and one that won't leave you in a hurry. Highly, highly recommended; one of the most though-provoking and heartbreaking British films in years.
*-*-*-*-* "It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak. The courage, but not the words."