Grief is arguably the strongest of all human emotions. It can manifest itself in numerous forms from extreme rage to absolute silence and acceptance. It has been explored in cinema since the birth of the medium to a varying degree of success. The latest film to tackle it is Couple In A Hole from debut feature director Tom Geens.
John (Paul Higgins) and Kate (Kate Dickie) are literally a couple in a hole. The Scottish pair live a feral life together in the forests of the French Pyrenees. Their home is a little cave deep in the woods. They live off the land as John spends his days foraging for plant and catching the occasional wild rabbit. Why they are there is not explained but hit appears to be some form of tragedy that led them to this existence.
Kate is severely depressed. So much in fact that she has a real struggle to go outside from her dark and dank dwelling. John has to coax and encourage Kate to take even a few steps into the clearing around their ‘home’. As part of John’s travels, through the forest he comes across a local farmer who seems eager to help them the couple in any way he can. As he works his way into John’s trust, the reason for their situation starts to be explained.
This is a quite extraordinary film. The mood is established from the first frames as we see the John going about his daily routine of gathering food and trying to keep his wife happy. The drama and tension are all created through the actions of John and his interactions with Kate. It quickly becomes clear that there are some serious problems that they are facing together. Kate is obviously suffering the most as she has basically shut herself off from the rest of the world. John is left to cope as best as he can.
It gives a view into a relationship that is shown at once to be extremely close and real. There are problems here and they are confronting them as best as they can. Kate is affected by an extreme form of breakdown and whatever was the source has pretty much broken her. The root cause, which is explained in small pieces, has led to a situation where the couple have withdrawn from the world. It is as if they have experienced a grief so strong that it has affected their entire lives. When they have seen that it has had no effect on anyone else they have obviously resolved to remove themselves from society.
There are only two main acting parts in the film and they are both superb. Paul Higgins and Kate Dickie as the couple as both excellent. There is a real sense of their being in this situation together and they take on the roles superbly. The character of John is given the opportunity to have a bit more emotional range throughout the film and Higgins displays this in his understated and sometimes awkward portrayal. John is someone who obviously needs the company of others and is feeling lost in the situation. At first, he shuns the attention of the local farmer (Jerome Kircher), suspicious of his motives. Slowly he comes to seek him out. He watches him working for a while and then approaches him in order to participate in conversation.
Kate, meanwhile, is struggling with reality most of the time. Dickie plays her with utter restraint and only allows the character to show any outward feelings on a few rare occasions. There is a really touching scene where John and Kate go out into the rain and end up stripping off and washing each other. It reinforces the intimate bond between them and shows a moment of intimacy that has been missing from their relationship for some time.
The film is staged and shot very simply. This isn’t a criticism of the techniques used. It is a choice that the film makers have made to tell the story in the best way. It is sparse and quiet as we follow the lives of the couple. It is slow but not a moment is wasted. The audience is drawn into the drama by the disarming simplicity of the storytelling.
For the majority of the running time, there is no soundtrack. So when the music of Beak> features is very effective. The music is employed in a very clever way. The first couple of tracks are very low down in the mix and are barely audible at times. It is just as the drama goes into the third act do we really hear the music. It is haunting and totally fitting for the visuals it accompanies.
Overall, a film that you really should see. On the big screen, if possible. Highly recommended.