Couple in a Hole

 

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A couple live in a hole. But why?

  
 Couple in a Hole

The nature of seclusion: Kate Dickie

 

John and Karen do, literally, live in a hole. While this may be a heavy-handed metaphor for the emotional plight in which the couple find themselves, it nonetheless provides an intriguing stage for a most unusual and often quite riveting drama. At first we are presented with a woodland idyll that would not seem out of place in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We wonder if John and Karen are foragers, hunter-gatherers, deranged nature lovers or part of some kind of Samuel Beckett dress rehearsal. But with birdsong substituting for music, there is an air of enhanced realism in Tom Geens’ parable.

 

The eponymous couple are in early middle-age and Scottish, that much of which we can be sure. John goes off to sample the local foliage and catches the odd rabbit. Karen lives in a make-shift cave and is loath to leave her nook. It is an old-fashioned set-up. He wanders around looking for food, she stays at home to keep their hole in order. A highlight is when, blindfolded, Karen is fed fresh worms from John’s hand. Yummy. Of course, there is a reason for their seclusion, an explanation that emerges gradually, and meticulously.

 

On the plus side of Tom Geens’ startlingly original enterprise is the glorious location and the cinematography of Sam Care. Set in the Midi-Pyrenees, and partly filmed in Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, the film looks little short of stunning. And Geens is not against stopping for the odd sylvan interlude, to take in the full splendour of the environs. As the woodland couple, Paul Higgins and Kate Dickie give it their all, as if auditioning for an episode of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! Even so, we never lose sight of the fact that John and Karen are real people and that their lives are blighted by something terribly awry.

 

To give away more would be to deplete the experience of the film. But whether or not one buys into the oddness of the scenario, it is not without compassion or even humour. As John declares at one point: “We’re strong. We’re Scottish!” And the film’s strangeness – at times recalling the supernatural surrealism of Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin – makes it an experience that will stay with you for some time afterwards.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher, Corinne Masiero.

 

Dir Tom Geens, Pro Zorana Piggott, Ex Pro Lizzie Francke, Screenplay Tom Geens, Ph Sam Clare, Pro Des Richard Campling, Ed Alain Dessauvage, Music BEAK˃, Costumes Angela Billows.

 

011 Productions/Chicken Factory/A Private View/British Film Institute/Région Midi-Pyrénées/Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds-Verve Pictures.

104 mins. 2015. UK/Belgium/France. Rel: 8 April 2016. Cert. 12A.