Essential Insights: Top Critics on “sleep furiously”

sleep furiously

This Friday Fandor presents the exclusive US digital premiere of the acclaimed film sleep furiously directed by Gideon Koppel. Winner of the Best First Film of 2010 by the Guardian, sleep Furiously is a picturesque exploration of small farming community in Wales. The film will stream online for only a limited period on Friday, July 29th; it will become available again in October. Along with Friday’s digital premiere on Fandor, the film debuts theatrically in the US at Cinema Village in New York.

sleep furiously premiered last year in the UK to universal acclaim, scoring a rare five star rating in Time Out London. The following is a selection of the most insightful comments from the British and international festival critics on sleep furiously and director Koppel:

“This delicate, tonally complex film by Gideon Koppel is a documentary love-letter to Trefeurig, the Welsh farming community in Ceredigion where he grew up, and where his parents found refuge from Nazi Germany during the second world war. It is a rural society, outwardly placid and at one with a landscape of stunning beauty, but in fact in crisis.

The film takes his title from Noam Chomsky’s famous example of a meaningless sentence: “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously”, but it enigmatically finds some meaning and poetry in the line. Furious sleep may be what Trefeurig is now experiencing: a grim, terrible suspicion that their communal death is now inevitable, that some line has already been crossed… None of this cancels the beauty of what Koppel’s camera finds: the shape of flapping sheets on a washing line mimics the distant quilt of fields.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Rather than telling a story, Koppel paints a portrait of a community (the town of Trefeurig in Wales, to be exact), loosely linking his vivid (and often very funny) sketches of country life with the ambling journey of a mobile library. There are scraps of dialogue here and there, but words are not important. It’s more about rituals and process, a paean to old-fashioned methods like farming, baking and rope-making that are slowly being crushed by the wheels of progress. It never rests on tweeness or sarcasm and the sheer ingenuity of the filmmaking produces something altogether deeper, moodier, more compassionate and joyful. The lilting strains of Aphex Twin work wonders on the soundtrack, as does the abrupt, consistently surprising editing, which effortlessly transports the viewer from place to place, life to life. This is as fully formed and unique a debut movie as you could ever hope to see.”

David Jenkins, Time Out

“It’s not just the beautiful and often impressive imagery that are powerful in conveying that sense of living in such a place – the use of sound is just as effective, if not even more so. The soundtrack is composed of nature and humanity – choirs of birds as much as Welsh choirs, the bleating of sheep, the warm rustle of wind through the trees on a summer day, the murmur and chatter of young infants at the soon to be closed school, the exchanges between the travelling librarian and his customers, and the small talk and memories between elderly ladies speaking in Welsh that opens up another perspective on the past, memory. And in-between, to punctuate and emphasise mood, music by the Aphex Twin adds another level of artistry to the overall creation of the whole picture.”

Noel Megahey, The Digital Fix

sleep furiously is a beautifully oblique homage to the rituals and values of the shrinking population of his home-hamlet, but it’s also an essay on time, a meditation on nostalgia and belonging, and a celebration of the art and craft involved in cake baking, choral singing, sheep shearing, sheepdog training, ploughing, haymaking and, above all – though only by analogy – film-making.

Koppel is by no means… aiming at cinéma vérité; by deploying a set of self-consciously offbeat perspectives on the landscapes and interiors he films – lots of very low shots of legs and hooves, and very high ones of sheep being mustered or a solitary walker with a dog, but relatively few straightforward shots of people – he creates an original and distinctive grammar of seeing and hearing. It doesn’t make conventional sense, any more than Chomsky’s sentence does, but it insistently evokes the possibility that a secret and inexplicable life is flowing just beneath the ordinary doings and events the film records. ‘Time just spins around,’ says Koppel’s mother towards the end, and throughout this unobtrusively elegiac film we are aware that what we are witnessing is in mute dialogue with its own threatened disappearance. An epigraph that appears just before the final credits helps articulate this: ‘It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak, the courage but not the words.'”

– Mark Ford, The Guardian

“The gods haunt this film, for we are in a kind of classic pastoral, where the nymphs are portly and wear aprons and make sponge cakes filled with jam, and the shepherds do not play pan pipes but tend their flocks with no less rough tenderness than did their Attic forebears. One of the most beautiful and mysteriously affecting sequences is shot from a high mountainside down into a rain-swept valley into which two lines of sheep straggle slowly from different directions to form a kind of ragged magic square. It is the inexplicable beauty of these images that one remembers long after the screen has gone dark.

The film-maker Alex Cox described sleep furiously as “the least anthropocentric film I have ever seen”, and surely it is. Koppel’s vision sets man in his true context, as a part of creation and not lord over it… Now more than ever we need films such as this: grave, measured, subtly comic and beautifully wrought, free of polemic and yet offering a new way of seeing that is as old as Arcady. sleep furiously is, simply, a masterpiece.”

John Banville, Sight and Sound

Sleep Furiously

“[Koppel] explains that the world he is trying to evoke in sleep furiously is that of childhood. An ambitious claim, perhaps, but appropriate in the context of the movie and of Koppel’s own early years. For he was practically raised, one of five children born to German-Jewish immigrants, in Trefeurig itself — his family had holidayed there since he was 8, and then moved permanently when he was 12.

The film thus resembles a composite of fragments, he says, of memories that he has been holding inside him since then. And it is true, there is something dreamy and non-corporeal about even the most literal sequence in the movie: here a sheep jumps free from a shearing shed in woozy slow-motion; there a rain cloud quietly falls over a green hilltop, and all the while the gentle tinkling of keyboard tracks from Aphex Twin (who generously provided the film’s emotive soundtrack) play lightly in the background.

Unlike the bloated summer blockbusters, this is a movie that boldly illustrates why we go to movies in the first place — not to have our synapses singed by computer-generated effects and jointhe-dots plotting but because this is an art form that, in an act of ineffable emotional alchemy, can capture a boy’s love for his father in the Welsh landscape and offer it up for the scrutiny and the delectation of anyone willing to be moved by it. If that’s not cinema, what is?”

Kevin Maher, The Times of London


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