Couple in a Hole: Kind of irresistibly odd
by Thomas Humphrey
- Following on from his dark shorts and uneasy feature Monteur, Tom Geens explores the extent to which film can do lots with a little
Nestled somewhere in the 59th London Film Festival's Love strand this year is a rather wonderfully unusual French, Belgian and UK coproduction. Focusing on a turbulent tale of grief-stricken adoration and hotly tipped by Ben Roberts (head of the BFI's Lottery Film Fund), Tom Geens’ Couple in a Hole [+see also:
interview: Tom Geens
film profile] certainly demonstrates how diversely the festival interprets love. But this strand also takes on particular significance this year, as a BFI-backed season of love-themed films will soon be rolling out across the UK from October to December, and Couple in a Hole gets that season gets off to an exciting start.
Also supported by the Flanders Audio-Visual Fund, Geens' return to the big screen equally bares the hallmark of their involvement too: An immense attention to the quality and clarity of images can be seen throughout, and the results definitely bear fruit. This studious approach to filmmaking allows what is a story about a Scottish couple living in a hole to take on glorious, almost transcendental qualities. Something that's particularly true because the film spends so much of its time romping through the glorious French Midi-Pyrenees, which throng and unfurl in almost every shot like an unforgettable, riotous orgy of green.
Having begun in this timeless rut, the film then follows John (Paul Higgins) and Karen (Kate Dickie) as they eke out a difficult hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which seems to suggest they've mysteriously taken off-grid living all the way. In these early stages, the Belgian director also clearly demonstrates his trademark skill at aggravating our distaste. He viscerally drops us into a world of muck, squirming grubs and rabbit's entrails, focusing on the characters' hands particularly, making Couple in a Hole a staggeringly abrasive experience.
However, this duo's retreat into primordial existence isn't quite as ageless as it seems. They very much live in the present, and planes and troublesome villagers constantly fringe their lives. As such, the movie really takes on the menacing quality of Absurdist theatre. However, Couple in a Hole is in no way Absurdist: the characters' actions are always reasoned, and there are reasons for their withdrawal (meaning you just have to wait for them to be captivatingly and slowly revealed). Though similarities with Absurdism do exist, both in the way the characters look and the way the story is told using unusually interlinked sets of doubles.
This makes for a really fascinating project, because Couple in a Hole seems to explore just how much film can be stripped down to almost conceptualised elements. But on top of that it explores how a more traditional sense of narrative tension and audience investment can be built into that. And a particular successful part of that process is Beak>'s wonderfully haunting synths are smartly stitched to the narrative and produces an effect far surpassing any lazily emotive piano track you find in Hollywood these days.
So with his production company The Chicken Factory, Geens seems determined to oppose the kind of films we see being churned out by the American Dream Factory. He continues to refuse to lie to us with tales of wish fulfilment, instead showing us uncanny, unstable and downright unpleasant happenings, and whilst this will make you squirm, it certainly makes you invest in a different kind of filmmaking.
Couple in a Hole will receive UK distribution by Verve Pictures.