Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT WET WALES COULD BE SO BEAUTIFUL? A Slow and Watchful Journey around Dylan Thomas Country Makes the Best British Documentary for a Decade and a Reminder of the Magic of Cinema; FILM OF THE WEEK

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT WET WALES COULD BE SO BEAUTIFUL? A Slow and Watchful Journey around Dylan Thomas Country Makes the Best British Documentary for a Decade and a Reminder of the Magic of Cinema; FILM OF THE WEEK

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew O'Hagan

SLEEP FURIOUSLY

Cert U, 94 mins

*****

IN A WEEK where Beyonce Knowles makes a movie appearance as a suffering wife in a tight dress, a week when Sam Raimi's new horror film arrives ringing with thrills and shrieks, the most interesting movie of the week by far happens to be a film that follows a mobile library from place to place in the middle of rural Wales. And I'm not joking. Sleep Furiously may be the most beautifully elemental documentary film to have emerged in Britain in over a decade and I can't applaud it loudly enough. Babies sleeping, clouds passing, old women watching, pigs being born -- this is hardly the stuff that multiplex dreams are made of, but this is not hype, it's life.

Actual change is hard to capture on film, mainly because few film-makers have the talent (or the funds) required for patient observation, the hallmark of the great documentary. But director Gideon Koppel does -- I don't know about the funds (the film was made on a shoestring), but he beautifully tells a real-life story about a disappearing community, the life of a people and a landscape that Dylan Thomas once sought to capture in Under Milk Wood. The farms have become mechanised, mobile phones and computers are changing the meaning of life for these people in the valley, but Koppel finds something timeless and warm in the space left behind.

The residents of Trefeurig borrow books from the library and they make cakes, they visit their friends and they talk to skilled tradesmen. At every turn there is joy and sadness, there is absurdity and gravity, the authentic ring of lives being lived no less fully for being lived fairly quietly.

Because of all the rubbish pandering for our attention -- as well as our honest pandering for rubbish -- we sometimes forget that this is one of the things cin-emcan do. It can be magical. It can make poetry. It can bring you into company with the basic things of life.

That might not seem like the exact thing you want on the high cusp of the weekend but you might be surprised to find it makes you happy.

Thrills and spills can do a lot for a person in need of some diversion but so, in a different mood, can the sight of a flock of sheep taking two full minutes to cross a hill. Before a motionless camera. In the rain. In Wales. If the movie wasn't so beautifully made, with such a wealth of humour and humanity at its centre, I would already be laughing at my own willingness to enjoy it so much.

In one scene, four old women are looking over some photographs and you want to cheer for them. In another, a lady with a stuffed owl goes to have its perch sawn down, talking all the while like a woman who's escaped from a great Celtic drama. Late on, when the lovely somnambulistic feel of the film has taken you in, there is a sequence where people enjoy the colours and surprises of a fireworks display, which feels more gratifying than the chariot race from Ben Hur. …

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