Beautifully shot but more than a little sterile, Gideon Koppel's sleep furiously. offers up a year in the rural Welsh village of Treuferig, where the school house is getting shut down and a whole traditional way of life is in danger of being extinguished. Koppel's 16mm filming is refreshingly lush as opposed to the new digital norm, and sleep furiously. is far from bad filmmaking. Still, there's a self-congratulatory tone to the film that renders it strenuously "poetic" rather than naturally so. Formally accomplished in bits but failing to cohere into a whole, audience interest will be limited to adventurous arthouse crowds, though the film's an easy watch that could attract those simply looking for pretty stills and foreign scenery.
Aside from village concern that the shutting down of the schoolhouse will be the first step to the decimation of local culture, what you get is sheepherding, jam tart preparation, the elderly reminiscing on days gone by and so forth, without any overt story shaping. There's nothing wrong with that, though one wishes Koppel and editor Mario Battistel wouldn't always cut quite so fast; if you're going to go pastoral, tableaux would be a more effective form of immersion.
Koppel's film isn't without precedent; a long tradition of tough-minded rural documentaries exists, from ultra-formalist affairs like festival favorite Le Quattro Volte and sheepherding documentary Sweetgrass to Raymond Depardon's pragmatically despairing Portraits of Farmers series, the best acknowledge the harsh realities and less appealing aspects of rural life while paying tribute to it. There's little such ambivalence here, or if there is it's unexpressed. For all its windy, verdant charms, it's hard to see the film and side with those who fear something priceless and invaluable will be lost if all the youth seek residence elsewhere. It would be entirely understandable to want to move.
Music from Aphex Twin (largely gentle, Satie-influenced piano cues from 2001's album Drukqs) underscore the danger of preciousness here: the tracks are great, but when put underneath scrupulously pretty countryside footage the total effect can be a bit smothering. There's one holiday sequence midway where everything comes together: with fireworks exploding and fast cuts making sense, the film's pulse is normally roused. The rest seems forcibly becalmed, as if aiming to impose an idea of generic arthouse cinema on a very particular locale.
Distributor: Microcinema International
Director: Gideon Koppel
Producers: Gideon Koppel, Margaret Matheson
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: July 29 (NY)