Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gideon Koppel's SLEEP FURIOUSLY (from 2008) finally gets a USA theatrical release

Sight and Sound called it a masterpiece. TrustMovies might not go quite that far, but SLEEP FURIOUSLY -- the visual tone poem from Gideon Koppel that takes place in the small village where his Jewish refugee parents found a home -- is an unusual and quietly stirring piece of work.

Filmed with a camera that remains stationary while each scene is being filmed but between scenes moves all over the village -- inside and out, filming in long shot and close-up, sun, rain and snow -- the movie is slow-going but never less than interesting and often much more than that. Mr. Koppel, shown at right, begins his film with a man in some kind of bright garb (the photo caption tells me that this is the Town Crier), walking up a hill followed by two little dogs. One thing you notice almost immediately is how neither the animals nor the people on view ever seem to notice the camera. That must be because the camera never moves, thus calling no attention to itself.

After that initial hill scene, we get several shades of muted colors across the screen, followed by a scene in school with young children and their aged teacher working with modeling clay. Then we're out in the field with tractors picking up bales of hay. These scenes -- and those that follow -- are brief but somehow pungent, while the vistas of rolling hills, valley and water (below) are ravishing, with Koppel's compositions of all this artful indeed.

The major problems in the village surfaces around the 20-minute mark: the village school is to be closed down, "reluctantly but finally," by the powers-that-be, and the villagers are not happy about this. Unless I missed noticing them, there are no televisions here. For entertainment, people read, and the traveling library, below, brings them a very interesting array of old and new books that range from Mary Renault's The Persian Boy to tomes on cooking.

Work life entails everything from agriculture to sheep-shearing to auto repair and training those sheep to go through a gate (the scenes of the sheep jumping, below, are a particularly delightful sight). A chorale sings -- gorgeously (note the expression of the choral mistress' face when a wrong moment occurs) -- and we get a funny poem about a signpost, old and new.

There is no narration to the film, which proves just fine. Villagers speak to each other when the spirit moves them, often in reminiscence. Laundry is hung to dry, clouds roll by and some lovely music is heard on the soundtrack (by a fellow named Aphex Twin). That stationary camera and the many changes of scene provide a kind of consistency that is oddly reassuring. Toward the finale we see this quote: "It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak.  The courage, not the words."  Well, let others find the words. Mr Koppel has certainly found the images.

Sleep Furiously (splendid title!) -- 94 minutes, in English and Welsh (with English subtitles) -- a Microcinema International release, in association with Fandor.com, opens this Friday, July 29, at New York City's Cinema Village. (Fandor.com will show the film online for an exclusive window of 24 hours on the opening day of this theatrical engagement.) Let's hope the film gets picked up for further theatrical play across the country and finds its way onto DVD eventually.

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