Film Review: Anna Sofie Hartmann’s (2019) Giraffe

Anna Sofie Hartmann brings inter-space/s to the screen in a delicate and provocative polyglot picture, Giraffe. Lisa Loven Kongsli is Dara, an ethnologist; Dara is tasked with documenting the people, places and objects – echoes – of a small Danish village set to become a motorway connecting to a not yet built tunnel crossing under the sea. The ferry is no longer fast enough for an increasingly accelerated world. Jakub Gierszal is Lucek, a laborer from Poland; his task is to dig trenches and install fiber optic cables for the influx of workers to come. These future workers will build the tunnel. Both Dara and Lucek are working, living, and fucking in an inter-space. Dara, 38, is a Norwegian living in Berlin, and Lucek, 24, is a Pole without a definite home (he is temporarily staying with his mother in her Warsaw apartment, but misses the small village where he grew up). Hartmann shows the lived, particular experiences of slowness, carnality and banality within the universal, often abstract, rapidity of capitalism. Giraffe is sequence of moments of reflection, boredom, and awkwardness that come from inhabiting, surviving and, in Dara’s case, documenting interstitial spaces/places.

Dara finds a derelict home, deserted since 2005, full of personal belongings, including diaries. The former occupant, Agnes Sørensen, a cultured and educated woman from Copenhagen, moved into the home in the 1960s. Even in death, she is vivacious, alive; she leaves photos and diaries, none of which are picked up by the family. Agnes’ diaries provides a kind of comfort blanket across this melancholic, Nordic summer film. One suspects that a single woman moving to a remote island from the capitol, in the 1960s, left her, to a degree, estranged from her own family. Dara asks the current land owner if anyone ever came to collect Agnes’ things. No. The diary attests to a kind of loneliness, a complicated erotic life, with to two lovers, Gorm and Peter, mirroring Dara’s own sexual attraction to Lucek and their subsequent liaisons. Agnes and Dara become enmeshed; ethnologist she is, Dara’s digging brings her into close proximity with the past. Walking through Agnes’ empty, flaking home, windowless in places, Dara begins an imaginative journey that takes her directly to her own desires.

In a beautiful scene, at a cafe, Dara asks Lucek how old he is, at first he jokes and says 19. He’s 24. “Is that problem?” No. She says she’s 38. “Is that a problem?” No. The sensuality and sexuality of this film is so evocatively subtle – for example, edit-cut from kissing in the evening to laying in bed naked, entwined in the morning – as to power an electric eroticism. What is left out, what is an inter-space, an inter-time, amplifies, perhaps almost always is, what we call the present, the continuous, the here-and-now. Dara and Lucek, like us all, live in altermodernity, in geographic, class and cultural hybridization; a type of painful, boring yet also erotic and playful intermingling produced by globalization. Slowly, Dara continues to document. Lucek’s employer goes bankrupt, and he is made redundant. Digging trenches for fiber optics, digging into boxes for objects to collect and photograph. They are two sides of the same process; brought together in a kind of misaligned interregnum. Lucek loves Dara, yet she has a boyfriend back in Berlin, and her milieu is bourgeois-intellectual. Eastern and western, Poland sits, as I know all-too-well, at a inter-space that confuses its largely homogeneous population. Poland is a place of identity crises, surviving Nazism, Stalinism, Soviet bureaucratic decay, and 1990s neoliberalism; it later entered promised land of Alexandre Kojève‘s European Union in 2005. Further integration, trade liberalization, freedom of movement are all the universals, the grand narratives, driving the particulars in this unique film. However, Hartmann keeps close enough to the ground to avoid flying off into complete abstraction – no small feat in a time (late 20-teens and 2020) of highly abstracted avant-garde films like Last and First Men, or, the more grounded, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream.

Dara’s friend, most likely made from frequent journeys on the ferry, Käthe (Moren Eggert) is an attentive, food and shopping ferry attendant. She watches everyone; she knows their stories by quiet examination, listening, watching, intuiting; she is aware of their movements by sheer repetition in an ultimate inter-space: a ferry. Dara and Käthe speak only once during the film, yet this one conversation reveals that they are both ethnologists, although one (Dara) is published with a PhD, the other, Käthe, is attuned to the social and personal particulars just the same. The three – Dara, Lucek and Käthe – form a kind of a triangular interspace themselves. Käthe notices Lucek, and she silently stares at him from inside, as he talks with his fellow Polish workers, on the deck of the ship; they are heading home. Displaced from Dara, he sends her a video of his home village, then later one from Warsaw. He laments being in a city. His future lamentation is reflected in Käthe’s gaze, for she knows by habit that look. Mirrors all, photographs, Dara’s work complete, she participates in the documentation of Agnes’ home in order for it to be approved for demolition. No one is a neutral observer. Not even us, and we are left wondering: what is my role in all of this? We are left in the place that is left out.

. . .

Watch film @Mubi

After Notes

I do think that Dara wants Lucek, yet the cost would be too high for her. Relinquishing her bourgeois-intellectual circle in Berlin for a Polish laborer. He confesses his love for her, and says he wants her. She looks inquisitively at him, questioning herself. A split opens up inside her; she must confront the interstice/s that she’s living. As an ethnologist, she is engages in a heuristics of the present; she’s pragmatically dealing with the very particular processes of the assignment she’s taken up; she is delineating what traces will remain to and for the/a future.

During a work-scene (most of Dara’s work serves as a narrative break from something beyond itself), Dara speaks to a woman moving out of a large country home about the home’s origins. The owner-leaver describes the original vernacular architecture (1880s), made of timber from the local area, the subsequent brick overlays, and what she calls her family’s “relentless interior modernization”. She’s happy to leave. Indeed, some want to move with acceleration and others grieve progress’s great iron; progress and its ironing out all that folds differently than its own internal logic is central to the film. Perhaps, Dara cannot bring herself to chose: accelerate into the Polish past or fold into the contemporary current of Berlin?

Dara & Lucek in cafe, discuss their ages, the interspace between 38 and 24, respectively. Courtesy Mubi

5 comments

  1. Found the film a bit slow—but I see how that “slowness” is important to what you call

    “What is left out, what is an inter-space, an inter-time, amplifies, perhaps almost always is, what we call the present, the continuous, the here-and-now.”

    Glad it’s still on Mubi — will watch again. Cinephiles unite!

    Like

  2. Tony Robert Cochran’s eloquent, elegant and concisely economic review of Anna Sofie Hartmann’s Giraffe (2019) makes one want to immediately want to see the film in order to become intimately involved with its inhabitants of time’s past and times to come: where space and time shape subjectivities and memories through loss and love.

    We feel we are within the frame of the film that is the eye of the ethnologist digging up the past for future viewing as to reminding us that we ourselves will also becomes lost leftover relics to be remembered on reels of film or sound recorded tape only to be stored away for a future yet to become; or, maybe, even forgotten altogether and to be left locked in a vault only to be excavated in centuries to come if, indeed, they do come.

    The viewer is a voyeur here where we are ourselves are objectively presenting the present that ferments the future from the past into a poignant nowness where chance meetings in crossroads and cul-de-sacs of time-space form chains of alien beings coming together – but, then, only to be pulled apart by the external economic events that disinterestedly and depressingly separate subjects in love who then have to go there own ways – whilst retaining poignant memories of times past still present in mind. The past is never past for our memory is always present. An exceedingly excellent and enlightening review.

    Like

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