Sunday, September 11, 2016

In the Country (Anders Jedenfors, 2014)

In the Country is a slick black-and-white, medium-length observational documentary. Anders Jedenfors follows the daily routines of a middle-aged Swedish couple. Lena and Gunvall Carlsson live in the country and, for the most part, have only each other for company. There’s plenty of dead time, which they fill listening to music, dancing, doing housework, cooking dinner. Lena and Gunvall chat, but the conversations are a bit facile; they remain on the surface. You sense an invisible barrier between the two. The first red flag that something’s amiss is that they sleep in separate beds in separate rooms. Later, in one of the film’s rare instances of a direct address, Lena tells Jedenfors why she sleeps alone. She says they have different sleep patterns. It sounds unconvincing. It’s not until film’s end that Jedenfors reveals why their relationship is chilly. It’s a kind of reveal that makes you reflect on everything that you saw leading up to it. And it’s also a reveal that’s inappropriate for such a documentary.

Shot on high-contrast film, In the Country looks polished, but also rough-hewn. Jedenfors pays careful attention to compositions. In long shots, he not only frames Lena or Gunvall, he also captures the space around them as well. Jedenfors will alternate these shots with extreme mobile-close ups, shooting inches away from bodies and faces. In fact, In the Country is a bit too composed. A pre-title, one-take traveling shot follows Lena from behind as she walks along a road, reaches her home, and shovels snow off her front door. It’s a calling card shot, indicating a film that asserts its formal bravado. It becomes questionable, even unbearable, when applied to the narrative structure. It’s a documentary that leads up to a reveal that drums up shock for an actual incident in this couple’s life. By basing the film around this reveal, Jedenfors uses it as an affective strategy to wake up the viewers. One person's gnawing pain, another's entertainment. Reducing it to a narrative shock tactic, In the Country doesn’t pay suffering the respect it deserves.

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