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New Release Review - COUPLE IN A HOLE

Mourning the death of their son, a couple ekes out a primitve existence in the wilds of the Pyrenees.



Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Tom Geens

Starring: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jerome Kircher, Corinne Masiero



Geens’ film pulsates with an authentic anguish; in his vision the desolate Pyrenees becomes a sort of Paradise in reverse. John and Karen are an Adam and Eve that never left Eden, instead having to live with their inescapable, human suffering.


As the blunt specifics of its title suggest, Tom Geens’ Couple in a Hole is primeval cinema: elemental, savage and raw to the touch. John (Paul Higgins) and Karen (Kate Dickie) are a couple living an abandoned existence within the wilderness of the French Pyrenees. How long the two have survived outdoors is uncertain - the wear and tear they show would suggest at least some time has been spent in the grime of the vast forest, but the clumsy, almost comical endeavours of John hunting suggests that he is no expert survivalist either. At least he has a go though: Karen, the more ruined of the two, refuses to even leave the foxhole that they have nested in: a dark, ersatz dwelling where they avoid the world at large and, seemingly, mourn the mysterious death of their son. Their life is painful, but for the most part functional, at least until a curious farmer, Andre (Jérôme Kircher), encroaches upon their territory…


Geens’ film pulsates with an authentic anguish; in his vision the desolate Pyrenees becomes a sort of Paradise in reverse. John and Karen are an Adam and Eve that never left Eden, instead having to live with their inescapable, human suffering. Karen tells John that she can feel their son’s ‘presence’, almost as if she's not only trying to convince her husband, but herself too. Meanwhile, John forages for bugs and rabbits, the former swallowed hungrily by Karen, the latter skinned in full visceral detail by her husband. You don’t need to be vegetarian for the tearing of bunny guts and bones here to unsettle: Couple in a Hole depicts nature as in blood red in tooth and claw. We may as well be in that hole with them, as John desperately attempts to ameliorate Karen’s agoraphobia by tempting her with caterpillars, and she squats in a dark corner to perform her ablutions.


The performances are superb. Dickie is a vision of emaciated despair, but this is Higgins’ film, with the actor externalising pride, sorrow and, slowly, surely, a dawning sense of awareness that there could be light at the end of the cave, and that life, however painfully, should go on. This is further suggested by the briars and tears upon John’s cable knit sweater (a none more middle class apparel), and in the furtive manner with which John has to sneak into town to procure medicine for a spider bite. This couple are not cut out for wilderness, and their hole is figurative, as well as literal - he needs to leave as the forest reminds him of his lost child; she needs to stay for that very reason.


Hope and a hand up comes in the form of Andre, who, initially fascinated by the strange hobos living in the woods which back on to his farm, strikes up a sort of friendship with John, bringing him bread and even, in one of the film’s absurdly comic moments, barking at some kids to frighten them away from the den. Andre’s kindness leavens the film, making the sadness more acute, and ensuring that Couple in a Hole becomes more than a particularly existential episode of I’m a Celebrity.. Get Me Out of Here! (we’ll leave that to The Revenant….). I also loved the weirdo soundscape courtesy of Beak>, which compliments the film’s dark absurdity with its minimalist, bleeping cadences. Of course, it is pretty clear where all of this is going from the moment Andre shows up and begins to exercise his strange but touching bromance with John; however, this narrative inevitability serves to make the primitive humanity of Couple in a Hole all the more poignant and compelling.
Extras:
A behind-the-scenes featurette from the cast and crew can be found along-side Q+As, stills and more. In the interviews included both cast and director are articulate as they elucidate the process of making the film and discuss the thematic depth of Couple in a Hole - see the bonus clip below. A solid package from wearecolony.com, where you can stream the movie from April 8th.
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