27
Oct 10

London Film Festival: Two Gates of Sleep

Do You See + FT//Post a comment • 230 views

There’s precious little dialogue in this film; a couple of mumbled lines, and some yelling of names about sums it up. But the two main actors have a wide range of non-verbal noises at their disposal; they grunt, yelp, pant and sniff, splutter, shout, smoke and cough their way through making their mother’s coffin, and carrying it downriver. Mostly, they grunt.

When the film opens their mother’s still an inhabitant — if an airily insubstantial one — of their tiny isolated shack. She sits at home or wanders the garden as the brothers prowl the wilderness hunting. (There’s lots of grunting involved, especially when dragging home the deer they bag. Hunting is SERIOUS MANLY BUSINESS.) Once the mother dies — wandering out of doors at night — she’s boxed up in a homemade coffin and lugged through forests, floated along a river, to a forest hollow, to be buried. It’s a journey that takes several days and an obscene amount of grunting and gurning.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that *any* film in which a dead, be-coffined body’s being shoved up and rolled down ravines, and floated — almost used as a raft — along a river would have black comic potential. But not here. There’s no funny patches in this film at all.  There’s a pretty grim in-grave foot-meets-coffin moment near the end that could have been horribly, unwatchably hilarious in another film. No chance of that here; just grim stony-faced silence interspersed with yet more grunting. In a tauter film this lack of laughs could end up very uncomfortable; here the tension is dispelled with lingering, soothing shots of river, sky, trees. A sudden pigeon movement, one third in, almost elicits a laugh. Almost.

My cinemagoing chum recommends that I reference Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness. I’ll do that, then! I can see where parallels might be drawn — a difficult river trip, the lush denseness of the forests but while Heart of Darkness sounds the depths of the human soul, there’s very little access to these brothers’ internal lives,  and no glimpse of their moral compass. They seem to be driven more by instinct than calculation.

Visually this was a treat, shot on something low-contrast and unsaturated, warm and soft and smooth. It’s very wildernessy; lots of forest, lots of green things growing green and large, almost engulfing the tiny patch of humanity we’re watching. Lots of dreamy slow abstract shots of sky or ground or leaves, and lots of nice closeups of decay and death on the forest floor. And the soundtrack was similarly woozy; several times I tranced out of noticing what what happening on screen at all. (I don’t think I missed much! This film is sparse on action.)

I just wish they could have been less GRUNT MANLY GRUNT about the whole kaboodle.

Hatesfun rating: 7.5/10

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