Stars: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher, Corinne Masiero | Written and Directed by Tom Geens
John (Higgins) and Karen (Dickie) used to have it all. They had uprooted from Scotland with their son to a small, yet idyllic cottage in the beautiful Pyrenees Mountain range of France. However, tragedy struck by the way of a fire that not only left them homeless, but even worse; childless. With their life destroyed, the pair decide to shut themselves off from the rest of the world and live off the land and take shelter in an isolated cave. After Karen is bitten by a deadly spider, John is forced to make his way in to the nearby town in search of some medicine for his wife. Although desperate to save his wife, an apparition of his recently deceased son causes him to panic and he begins to retreat. Thankfully, local farmer Andre (Kircher), who lives not too far from the cave dwelling couple with his wife Celine (Masiero), recognises John and as a small token of sympathy buys the medicine while John retreats to a nearby alley, not wanting to be seen by any of the other locals. What starts out as a kind gesture soon turns in to an uncomfortable friendship, but there may be more to Andre than meets the eye.
Just like the previously reviewed The Passing, Couple in a Hole is a film you have to go in to as blind as possible to feel the full experience. In fact, Couple in a Hole would make a perfect pairing with The Passing as the mood and some of the themes within are somewhat similar. The films even share a somewhat similar visual language. Naturally, that is just purely down to coincidence, but it’s a happy coincidence so all is good! Moving swiftly on!
At it’s core, Couple in a Hole is a bleak and sometimes surreal insight in to the concept of grief. John and Karen deal with their loss by shutting themselves off and living off the land, whilst maintaining some sense of order by making their cave a home (well, as homely as a small cave could be!). At first, some may find this to be a surreal way of dealing with loss, but different people react differently in different situations. In a way, their coping mechanism and situation is not too dissimilar to Dafoe and Gainsbourg’s in Antichrist. That being said, an unimaginative riff on that film this is not. What we have here is a brooding and patient film that has you gripped throughout. Geens has done a fantastic job both in terms of scripting and directing. His characters are believable, likeable and sympathetic and the cast have done a tremendous job with the material. Although, I will always remember Higgins for his fantastic comedic performances in The Thick of It and In The Loop, his portrayal of the grief stricken father who not only has to look after his wife, but maintain a secret relationship with the helpful farmer is one of the finest dramatic performances I have seen in quite a while. All in involved do a phenomenal job and it goes to show you that sometimes, a small cast can be a great thing.
In terms of style, it’s just as bleak and melancholy. The French landscape, although vast, beautiful and in full bloom, has a sense of sadness and overall, the film has a very muted colour palette. All of this has been lensed wonderfully by Sam Care (In Our Name). It’s often easy to overlook production and costume design, but both Richard Campling (Mister Lonely) and Angela Billows (Dangerous Parking) should be commended for their involvement and contribution. Sometimes the smallest and most subtle of touches can make a lasting impression. To compliment the visuals and story we have a sometimes jarring and rustic score from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and his side project Beak>. It not only works brilliantly within the context of the film, but also as a great selection of pieces to listen to outside of the film. Definitely one of the finest original soundtracks of recent years.
Overall, Couple in a Hole is a phenomenal film that may not be completely perfect, but it’s imperfections and sometimes ‘rough round the edges’ feel add to the experience. The only tiny aspect that I’m still deciding wether or not I completely love or hate is the climax of the film. Let’s just say that much like the film itself, it left a lasting impression.
Don’t tell me you’re not intrigued by now…
Couple in a Hole is available now on We Are Colony