Giraffe is often beautiful, but strikes an imbalance between its form and its flagging emotional core.
Frequently beautiful but frustratingly opaque, Anna Sofia Hartmann’s Giraffe plays like a compendium of festival film tics, a set of carefully curated Big Ideas in search of a compelling reason to care about any of it. In crafting what is essentially a treatise on modernity by way of Jia Zhangke and Chantal Akerman, Hartmann cycles through aesthetic forms while utilizing a staid relationship drama as structural scaffolding. Giraffe takes place largely in the Danish island of Lolland, where academic Dara (Lisa Loven Kongsli) is cataloging homes and interviewing residents that are going to be displaced in the process of building a new tunnel connecting Lolland to Germany. Hartmann also follows a crew of itinerant Polish workers who are laying fiber optic cabling that will be part of the tunnel. Eventually, Dara begins a tentative affair with one of the workers, a younger man named Lucek (Jakub Gierszał). There are also occasional trips on a ferry that transports people on and off the island (and which will itself be rendered obsolete by the impending tunnel). Here, a third character is introduced, a cryptic ferry worker played by Maren Eggert, who imagines narratives for strangers she observes on her travels.
As in a lot of current European art films, Hartmann favors largely static master shots, always maintaining a careful symmetry and allowing the camera to occasionally pan slowly left or right. The result is a handsome film somewhat lacking in formal variation, with shots stacking up in a dull, metronomic rhythm. Hartmann is obviously interested in the various threads of our modern, interconnected world and losing our links to the past, but her approach is too diffuse to really land. Bits of narrative information are unproductively obscured, revealed only in drips and drabs. Scenes of Dara and Lucek in the throes of passion seem like they belong in another movie. Meanwhile, there are epistolary sequences of Dara reading aloud from a diary discovered in an abandoned, soon-to-be-demolished home, pseudo-documentary interview scenes detailing the plight of the Polish workers, and glacially paced trips on the ferry, which Hartmann films like an alien spacecraft. That’s a lot of ideas for a film that barely clocks 90 minutes, and there’s a clear imbalance found in how much better some of this works than other parts. Hartmann clearly has talent, but one wishes she would either commit to the human story at the center of her narrative or eschew traditional narrative altogether; this middleground isn’t working.
Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2020 — Dispatch 3.