Director – Anna Sofie Hartmann – 2019 – Germany, Denmark – 82m
On MUBI from Thursday, August 6th. As part of a series of films from the 2019 Locarno Film Festival.
There is a beautiful, lengthy shot of a giraffe at the start. Beyond that, it’s hard to know why it’s called that. No doubt we’re meant to construct our own ideas as to why this might be so.
Leaving that aside, this is a curious film, part drama, part documentary. Some of the time, you’re not exactly sure which of the two you’re watching.
A link is being built between Denmark and Holland that will require the demolition of numerous 19th Century farmhouses in its path. It falls to ethnologist Dana, 38 (Lisa Loven Kongsli) to compile a record of these houses and the people who lived in them before they are gone forever. The premises vary from derelict to maintained with occupants about to move out.
Going through one of the derelict farmhouses, Dana discovers the diary of one if its occupants and starts reading. The woman lived alone but had occasional romantic visitors, a compelling tale – for Dana at least, since it seems uncannily to mirror her own existence.
A crew of Polish workmen are installing a cable beside a roadway. They are fourth level subcontracted and learn that there is a dispute as to who will pay them, so their job grinds to a halt. Before it does so, a young man from their number Lucek, 24 (Jakub Gierszal) meets Dana and embarks on a sexual relationship with her. Neither will be there for more than a matter of months, so this has an air of impermanence about it, however much one or other of them might wish otherwise.
If most of that sounds like drama, shots of ferry or farmhouse interiors are something else, as if this were a documentary about farmhouses and ferry transport. When we first meet the Polish road construction crew, it feels more like a carefully observed sequence in a documentary than an episode in a drama. At one point, vox pops of different workers have them describe their feelings about the job and the fact that t takes them away from home for months on end.
Dana talks to people who feel to all intents and purposes like real people, as if the actress were interviewing them for a documentary. There’s a further plot, infuriatingly not fleshed out, about a woman working as part of the (catering?) crew on the ferry Dana takes to reach the area to whom she talks and asks questions and who later watches Lucek on the ferry part of his return trip to Poland (presumably without knowing anything abut his history or final destination).
Thus the piece constantly shifts between the drama and documentary forms.
What comes though is an idea of time, pace and memory – people’s lives in the past, people’s lives in the present, the interconnectedness yet disconnectedness of humanity in the age of the motor car and the international migrant workforce. These ideas prove strangely compelling.
Giraffe is out on MUBI on Thursday, August 6th. As part of a series of films from the 2019 Locarno Film Festival.