Friday, April 24, 2015

6 Desires: DH Lawrence & Sardinia ... #bff15

I’m normally a fan of Mark Cousins’ quickly-shot flâneurial observational films that merge his own imagination, a character and a place. But 6 Desires: DH Lawrence & Sardinia fell flat.

Maybe it’s because I entered the Beanbag Cinema as a Philistine with little knowledge about DH Lawrence’s work (though I’ve more than a passing awareness of how his namesake DHL deliver parcels). Maybe because I thought I was going to see it last Saturday night and ended up at Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence instead. Maybe it was because it was a wet Friday evening at the end of a long week and my eyelids were heavy.

The first half hour is promising. The opening shots on board a ferry berthing in Sardinia paint a magical scene. Cousins’ trademark punctuated commentary is full of rhetorical questions aimed at the author he refers to as Bert (H for Herbert) with such familiarity. The potential monotony of Cousins’ narration is removed with Jarvis Cocker voicing quotes and readings from Bert. (Though I’m pretty sure the playful opening credits which introduces every character in the film – including “sheep” – reads “Jarvis Crocker”.)

Another customary hallmark is present: Cousin’s hand carrying around laminated pictures of the subjects and photos of associated artefacts. An empty frame is held up, overlaying scenery as Cousins imagines standing viewing what Lawrence and his wife Frieda might have seen back in 1921 when he made the journey that inspired Sea and Sardinia.

And then there are the links back from present day architecture and buildings to clips from cinema past … and ancient.
“Life is right here, the on-going moment”

As the camera journeys around Sardinia, six desires are examined: Bert’s desire to escape from England and his desire for sun and bodies; the filmmakers’ desires to be with Bert; a fifth desire that I missed; and Bert’s desire for form.

While a minor step up from the shirt pocket-sized Flip camera Cousins was using a few years ago, the well-framed shots are still fixed focus, with little shake and mercifully absent of zoom. But as the camera pans or captures the rush of hedges out the car window, the consumer quality becomes apparent.

Along with some choral pieces, Aaron Kelly’s discordant score adds a sustained melancholic synth vibe to the background of 6 Desires. At times the sound dips sharply to make way for the next piece of commentary, before ratcheting back up, as if mixed with a mouse rather than fingers on faders.

There’s a beautiful sequence half way through the film when flashes of footage we’ve already seen are replayed: revising and reinforcing the story like a summary at the end of a lecture. But instead of stopping, the film continues on.

Recognising the masculinity of the story so far, it shifts away from Cousins’ narration about Bert to allow sound recordist Gillian Moreton’s voice to take over the story and introduce another local subject, Sardinian writer Grazia Deledda who won a Nobel Prize for Literature. But the change of pitch isn’t accompanied by a change of pace, and the pulse of 6 Desires weakens.

As the lights came on in the Beanbag Cinema, some Belfast Film Festival goers chatted about how inspiring and good the film had been. I picked up my empty box of popcorn and desired another screening of Here Be Dragons (exploring the political, cultural and cinematic landscape of Albania), which still remains at the top of my list of favourite Mark Cousins films [You can watch it for free online.]

While I didn’t become a fan of Sardinia or DH Lawrence, 6 Desires and last night’s première of The Monday Club are both reminders that effective cinema requires strong ideas, boldness and a good script. Equipment, a huge cast, planning and time are less of a priority.

Mark Cousins makes his brand of documentary films look simple, leaving the significant craft and judgement embedded within them unacknowledged. It should give us all a nudge to go out and try to create something.

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