Andrew Kötting is continuing to emerge as a brilliant filmmaker, with distinctively hybrid qualities to his work. An artist/installation artist/feature filmmaker now – the flavour of Ivul (2009) is as much European as it is British. His second feature contains all of the spare filmic vocabulary of his Zola-inspired debut This Filthy Earth (2001) – spare in a poetic rather than a social realist sense. Kötting has a powerful capacity to conjure up emotion in scenes that should read flat – combining a high family melodrama with surreal visuals to render the surreal psychologies composing these characters and making them physical on screen within a sequence of connected but disparate scenes. It really shouldn’t work, it should seem overworked, even pretentious emotionally. Like This Filthy Earth it isn’t.
Kötting’s world, in Ivul, is one of tension and impending doom from the earliest frames. Without giving any of the plot details, because part of the pleasure is the sense of suspension through the sequences, the superficial gaiety at a family portrait at the beginning is shot skilfully in a way to unsettle the viewer immediately and suggest the dis-ease that exists. His consciously artful techniques – speeded up frames and jump cuts – add to the tension but there is also something immediately present in the over-physicality of the characters’ relationships to each other. The subsequent events are similarly conveyed with a still artist/photographer’s perhaps greater appreciation of minimalism. This, for me, makes for an intensity in the viewing absent when the plot is more decipherable. At times, it has the effect of watching an art installation on screen – the reversed sequence in the underground caves is beautiful and strangely logical – the figures clearly move backwards but in a way that is completely appropriate to the progression (narratively) in the scene. The technical specs give it as 35mm but there is a digital ‘look’ to certain sequences – and, perhaps due to its location, a reminder of something of Von Trier’s Antichrist in its filmic design. But the surface beauty doesn’t ever lose the characters’ believable humanity. I really like a description by Iain Sinclair that Kötting’s art is “physical, manic and remorseless: seaside postcard Herzog” (www.deadad.info/LRB%20sinclair%20kotting.pdf) – and thus with that humanity and connectivity that Herzog brings, even to the most outlandish subjects. Sinclair’s description is in respect of his installation pieces In the Wake of a Deadad in which Kötting travels with a giant inflatable of his dead father, and then also his grandfather, to places of significance to them when they were alive. What little I’ve seen of this (on the Internet) similarly contains that intense meditation on the bonds of family that are explored in the films – the kind, I think, that encourages a raw recognition when you are watching.
Sound in Ivul is worth mentioning – although I’m sorry not to be able to be too technical about it. But the use of sound, its foregrounding at certain crucial moments in the film, moved me in and out of the action – sometimes to be completely viscerally involved, sometimes cut loose watching an artwork in a cinema. It has a humour (a feature generally of Kötting’s approach) – not savage at all, but with a real sense of the grotesque and absurd. I’m off to discover more of his intriguing work.
In the Wake of Deadad – http://www.deadad.info/index.html (with links to distributor, ‘Lux, site) and earlier film, Gallivant (1996): http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/497791/index.html