Giraffe: Cautiously constructed film about endangered rural community

Review: Picture has quality of high-brow essay in austerely presented literary magazine

Giraffe: How refreshing to find a film that admits so many facets of human opinion

Film Title: Giraffe

Director: Anna Sofie Hartmann

Starring: Lisa Loven Kongsli, Jakub Gierszał, Maren Eggert , Mariusz Feldman, Przemysław Mazurek, Janusz Chojnacki, Piotr Olszański, Andrzej Wicher

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 88 min

Fri, Aug 7, 2020, 05:00


As the Locarno Film Festival begins its largely remote 2020 edition, the Mubi streaming service — continuing a Good Crisis — launches an exclusive presentation of films from last year’s event.

The season begins with this fascinating (if somewhat austere) mesh of fact and fiction from Danish director Anna Sofie Hartmann. Dealing with an ethnologist probing around an endangered rural community, the picture has the quality of a high-brow essay in an austerely presented literary magazine. There is a lot to unpack, but not so much to have fun with.

Dara (Lisa Loven Kongsli), a Danish boffin now living in Berlin, visits an island in the south of her home country that is about to welcome (if that is the word) a tunnel to neighbouring Germany. Many houses will be demolished to accommodate the development. Dara meets up with unhappy locals facing up to an unwanted move. She meets at least one couple who are content with the compulsory purchase. She explores a deserted house and finds the diary of a now-vanished librarian named Agnes.

The tunnel really exists and most of the people whom Dara encounters are genuine inhabitants of Lolland Island. The interactions reveal conflicting attitudes to the draw of place and the meaning of home. Older inhabitants find it incomprehensible that land passed down from grandfather to son to grandson could end up as the forecourt in a lorry park.

The oddness is heightened by the sense of Scandinavian stability. This is not some busy urban carousel. Every house looks as if it expects to be there for millennia to come.

In her researches, Dara goes among Polish workers and starts a relationship with handsome, younger Lucek (Jakub Gierszal). While the film teases out its ethnographic theories, it also allows a convincing romance to blossom. There’s some sweetness among the furrow-browed musings.

The lack of explicit anger — nobody is chaining themselves to railings — sends a studied entertainment towards a civilised ending. Dara photographs items she has found on her researches. Lucek travels back to Warsaw and sends us back phone footage of a very different Europe.

The end result is a cautiously constructed document that allows mildly contradictory interpretations. How refreshing to find a film that admits so many facets of human opinion.

Available to stream on MUBI from August 6th