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Sleep Has Her House (Scott Barley, GB 2016)


"And the dark is always hungry." (Scott Barley)

Scott Barley's apocalyptical drone-room of a film is a fascinating experience. Not only a film to watch, but definitely one to listen to, as the audio is almost as impressive as its pictures. Very often, the images are blurred in the beginning, but with the slightest movements of the camera, the picture does get clearer, more concrete, focused, but sometimes nothing happens at all, too. Nevertheless, the film feels very dynamic - it's a weird state of an inherent Bildspannung, a suspense (and tension that might rip apart) inside of the images themselves that keeps you totally immersed. Static movement of the camera might be the term of technique to describe the process of capturing those dreamlike images, which are almost incomprehensive at first, always hard to grasp. As there seems to be no plot, no dialogue, no actors, there are none of the usual narrative anchors that guide us through a film, or movie. Obviously, the director is searching after something else. Sleep Has Her House looks and feels like an art film that got stuck in the mud of a wasteland.

The audio accompanying the cinematic images build up a horizon resembling a huge wall of sound that makes everything in this film feel dark, dangerous and threatening. It definitely feels like we are the last survivors on earth who got spared from some apocalytical virus attack, hiding in the woods, underneath the branches of wet trees while darkness falls upon earth. And: eternal darkness that is. Maybe there will be a moon coming up illuminating our wounds, our horrors, our fears -  or there may be a planetary crash that might destroy everything that we knew. Then the last souls of mankind may rest in Valhalla (if lucky), go to hell, or have to wander around eternally as there surely is no salvation. The wasteland that we see is already in ourselves. 

And then, suddenly, there's beauty. In the night sky, reflected in the water of a lake. Which one doesn't recognize at first, but as there's wind coming up, the ripples start to break up the surface - and thereby the image. The reflection of the stars is soothing, somehow, although I don't know why. Maybe, because nature has come to rest, became quiet again - like it is quiet in ourselves. There is, at least, a short moment of peace and beauty. The river, for example, being illuminated by the moon bears no resemblance to rivers we know. Not the ones in the films of Shohei Imamura, not the the one in Jean Renoir's Indian masterpiece, not the one in Tsai Ming-liang's ode to urban depravation. It is a river like an imaginery spring of existance, where the origin of mankind found its first drops of life. Only to transform shortly after into the mist of the woods, the deep forests captured by clouds, when everything that was liberating or even soothing maybe, turns into the dark of night again.

I have no clue what the title of that film really means. But it is full of associations, of fatigue and death, of eternal sleep, of a home lost at the end of the world. It might be a fairy tale or the title of a poem. It is melancholic and dramatic at the same time. I could imagine large filmstills from the works of Guy Maddin, huge pictures put up at the walls of a museum that elude a soft gleam into the darkness of an isolated, encapsulated space - transforming maybe into the black box of a film theatre. Sleep Has Her House. I don't know what I have seen exactly in those 90 minutes, but it was beautiful.

Michael Schleeh

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