Whenever you engage in a story, no matter what medium you wish to pry it from, there’s always a sense of investment that you allow yourself to place on the story. In film that investment is going to take place within the first few minutes of the running time. That time can vary from film to film and also person to person. The point is Couple in a Hole takes its time, it wants to capture a sense of place, build some atmosphere, but does so at the cost of the pacing of its narrative. If you can get through it though, there is still an emotional, well made film to be seen.
A Scottish couple named John and Karen are living in an unspecified area of a French countryside. They’ve made a primitive home out of a dug out hole, living off the fur and flesh of animals and the edible ecology that surrounds them, but why are they here? Karen has severe back pain, possible from living for so long in a hole you can’t stand up in. John has to hunt, fetch water and provide for Karen, including when she gets bitten by a spider.
This leads to an extreme danger where John has to go to a nearby village and get medicine. He is confronted by a man called Andre who speaks little English. He ends up helping John in a myriad of ways, giving John medicine, later food, eventually leading to a chummy friendship as John visits Andre, helping him with his tractor for the nearby farmland. But why does Andre help out John so much?
This is a film of bereavement and tragedy, guilt hangs through this neat loop of character arcs that explain their place and their feelings. All the elements of the film drive this sombre tone, through the acting where, for once, people behave as real people, albeit with deeply troubling interpersonal conflicts. There’s a lot of colourful images of the French forestry which makes the drab Scottish pair stick out and not belong, keeping in theme with their tragedy. Even the music forms an eerie soundscape of detuned notes that hang and beat, and it’s also important that it shuts up from time to time to let the drama and visuals play out.
Couple in a Hole does a lot right, in its direction and creative production decisions, yet it’s let down by the slow first half of the film. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a gradual setup but when the actions on screen aren’t so much pushing the story as simply being, then it’s a problem. Having more conflict for the characters to push through can still be told in a less talky, more showy way and still feel engaging, and that’s where the first half lacks, but the second half picks up leading to a finale that’s symbolic and deeply saddening.
However those first impressions, are important, that is where our deepest investment will go towards reaching the end of the film. However, how many people will bother in the end we have yet to see.
Dir: Tom Geens
Scr: Tom Geens
Cast: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher, Corinne Masiero
Prd: Cavan Ash, Aurélie Bordier, Colette Delaney-Smith, Lizzie Francke, Jenna Mills, Dries Phlypo, Zorana Piggott
DOP: Sam Care
Running Time: 105 mins
Couple in a Hole is in cinemas from 8th April.