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  • TBC
  • Documentary
  • 2008
  • 94 mins

Sleep Furiously

Sleep Furiously

Synopsis

Gideon Koppel's abstract documentary is an elegy for a childhood paradise lost in the Welsh hill country

About

A man stands at a crossroads in the middle of a small Welsh village, reciting some verses about how the street sign beside him, once wooden, has been replaced with more modern steel. The problem, he goes on, is that strong winds cause the sign's new pointers to move around, so that he wishes the day would come again when someone would "plant a nice old wooden one, at least it could be trusted."

This scene from Sleep Furiously neatly summarises the film's main preoccupations. For, like all pastoral, Gideon Koppel's soulful documentary celebrates a golden age while lamenting its passing. Wooden or metal sign notwithstanding, Koppel suggests, the hill-farming community of Trefeurig (in the same neighbourhood as the fictional Llareggub in Dylan Thomas' 'Under Milk Wood') is quite literally at risk of losing its way as modernity encroaches.

And so scenes of children learning in the local school are set against council meetings that discuss the school's coming closure. Farmers still expertly command sheepdogs to guide their flocks, but now also drive quad bikes - and even the electric milker used by a herdsman is itself now starting to look old and rusted. Cakes are still home-baked, while a swineherd reminisces about the traditional pig's belly dish that he loves but has not eaten for years. The Welsh language and the local Welsh choir survive but English is creeping in. Church services go on being conducted but the congregation has dwindled to a mere handful. Besides the old village cottages there are modern homes. Change is in the air, and it is not just the cyclical shifting of the seasons.

At the core of Sleep Furiously is John Jones, driver of the mobile library that visits the village once a month. Jones is Trefeurig's link to both past and present, serving as guardian of local customs, history and gossip while bringing in books on computing, the internet and voguish diets. He too is aging. Meanwhile an elderly woman who we surmise from her surname to be the director's mother visits her husband's grave, worries about her beloved dog's melanoma and has a dead owl stuffed ("She's lovely - she likes being in this basket"). Dying and death itself are part of the fabric of this place in transition.

There is no commentary in Sleep Furiously, nor narrative as such, nor beginning, nor end - just an evolving montage of vignettes and landscapes, elegantly shot in 16mm, skilfully edited to evoke the rhythms of an idyllic if vanishing way of life and set to the quietest, most plaintive keyboard works of Richard 'Aphex Twin' James. Certainly it is the rhythm of Sleep Furiously that sets it apart from other documentaries, lending it a quiet lyricism all its own - but it is this same rhythm that risks losing the film much of an audience. Unlike the idealised Eden that Koppel seeks to conjure, cinema is an arena of events, and there are too few of those in Koppel's film ultimately to stop the average viewer from drifting into sleep, however furiously.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Pip Koppel, John Jones
  • Director: Gideon Koppel
  • Screen Writer: Gideon Koppel
  • Producer: Gideon Koppel, Margaret Matheson
  • Photographer: Gideon Koppel
  • Composer: Richard James

In a nutshell

Delicate, dignified but also undeniably dull, Sleep Furiously captures perhaps all too well the slow rhythms of a disappearing idyll.

by Anton Bitel

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