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Review: While the Green Grass Grows


- The latest effort by Swiss-Canadian documentary-maker Peter Mettler is a meditation on fate, fragility and the profound nature of human relations

Review: While the Green Grass Grows

Peter Mettler is returning to Visions du Réel (via the International Competition) - where he delivered a crucial masterclass in 2020 and where he won, in 2002, by way of Gambling, Gods and LSD, the UBS Grand Prize and the Young Audience Award – with the cryptically titled work in progress While the Green Grass Grows. Mettler’s latest documentary, which exceeds two and a half hours, is just a small part of an unusual film with a total running time of eleven hours. While the Green Grass Grows consists of chapters one and five of a gigantic seven-part work.

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Summarising the film is no easy task and, perhaps, if we’re being honest, it’s not necessary, since what it actually explores is intangible. When, in 2019, the Swiss-Canadian director started filming his daily life, creating his own visual diary, he didn’t start out with any specific questions in mind. What actually seems to interest him is to allow himself to be guided by curiosity and instinct. As stressed in the film, it’s when we don’t know what we’re looking for that the most surprising ties are forged, as is often the case in life. Armed with his camera, Mettler reacts to unexpected episodes in life, weaving an incredibly intricate and surprisingly coherent web of connections.

Mettler films as if he’s composing. As he does so, tuning into the frequency of the people, the nature and the animals he encounters, the director makes deep connections with everything around him. The time he devotes to this, and his dedication to penetrating beneath the surface of things to the point of abstraction, turns While the Green Grass Grows into a visual meditation. The movie’s 166-minute run-time flows by both slowly and quickly, transporting us far, far away from any perceptible reality.

The events reported in his visual diary are relatively recent: the passing of his mother in 2019, accompanied by breathtaking images of nature and mountains in the Appenzell district, which fill the first part of the film, and the pandemic period which brings him back to Canada where he tries to make the most of his father’s final moments, which occupies the movie’s second half. In both of these time-periods, the director inserts reflections on the meaning of life on this planet, he explores the complex relationship between humans and nature, he observes seemingly banal yet extremely significant moments in life, such as a hare crossing his parents’ front garden, filling him with a sudden sense of freedom. As the film emphasises, life isn’t just a series of past events which succeed one another like pearls on a necklace. It’s these pearls themselves which represent life; they continue to live on in our present and far beyond. In the same vein, the film helps to make these moments of life immortal.

The themes tackled in the film are incredibly profound, but the director manages to inject them with lightness and humour, against all odds. His parents, Julie and Freddy, definitely play a part in this. Their playful take on life, their capacity to reflect upon their own states of mind, and the director’s sensitivity in capturing them, result in a movie which is pure magic.

While the Green Grass Grows is produced by Switzerland’s maximage in league with Canada’s Grimthorpe Film.

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(Translated from Italian)

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