Couple in a Hole

Written and Directed by Tom Geens, Cast. Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jéróme Kircher, Rated 12a, Belgian, French, UK. English with occasional subtitles. Duration 1hr 45mins. 2015.
Sense of place
In the French mid-Pyrennes a Scottish couple, Karen (Kate Dickie) and John (Paul Dickie) have retreated to a hovel, the hole of the title which is no more than a large fallen tree they have enclosed and live in the void underneath.  There is little dialogue to begin with and it is sparse throughout the film so making the discovery of a backstory key to the ‘reveal’ of the reason such a seemingly mature couple, in their thirties, have this as a life’s domain.  The forest provides the first scenes as John is hunting, gathering food and some brutal animal gathering is involved though not of a boar.  They inhabit the forest too and each keep their distance.  The foraging is primitive and Karen is left alone and in shabby despair in the hole. Her mind is we can see, fractured and she is the vulnerable one and perhaps the one whose choice it was to live this way.
Visual enclosure
Belgian Director Tom Geens is able to deliver a taut and wringing story, having you guessing and confused while testing your nerves as to the limits of human existence physically and emotionally. A case of maybe – What would you do?
The time is the present and the place is a scenic valley with the forest skirting green pasture land and the hole is near a town which John sometimes visits for necessary provisions and the odd bit of pilfer you from people’s gardens.

The presence of nature and its contrasts with how we live, some able and adjusted to living off the land, and urban people whose vision of nature is one of escape. A small holding type existence the mid point survival Accomodation with the managed life providing things the land does not provide. Usually diversions of some kind and if not skilled in the rural arts of potions and cures, medicine.
Inevitably perhaps one off them falls ill. Karen has a very bad phobia of the outside world and it is with every idea at his disposal will she be encouraged to venture out. This is a theme in the film which is taut and claustrophobic in every sense making you wonder what it is that has both living this way. It is both unnecessary and as with their lack of skills, or moderate means of survival can they be safe and totally unable to make this ‘escape’ work for them, whatever they think it will achieve. The scenes of excruciating lack of of responsiveness from Karen are played intensely and the bridge is present in the portrayal of both for us to engage with, albeit from a position of comfort and far from their reality.
It seems closure of some sort is needed and there is a ghost which is present throughout and John who visits a burnout farmhouse and claws through the interior debris with recall of what might have been the way people live in such a fine giving part of the countryside. Of how life can be if it shaped out at another time. He is reflective and when it is necessary he engages with the adjoining community to seek help. It is Karen who has taken ill and he goes to obtain medicine but recoils and into the gap comes André who is a villager and farm owner with a volatile wife. Excellently played by Jéromé Kircher. He gets hold of the medicine and it is taken with thanks by John. André suggests to him the villagers want to help them but with the nature of the hermit existence Karen has imprisoned herself in it if both implausible and impossible. John begins through a period to engage more frequently with André in a semi harmonious way and little Bon mots are given, exchanged. Karen continues to be full of fear and has wild imaginings and bad dreams which make her containment ever worse and restricting.
The format of the film stretches reality and it is the backstory which is the most vivid and absent part of the story but it becomes slowly revealed with it has to be said our engagement and emotional sympathy playing a part in the story.

Conclusion ####4

It is enveloping after a very slow and bewildering first half. All acted and given strength and vitality by the manner of descriptive framing and visual close up imagery making us from early on able not to regard this as a surreal or post ‘apocalyptic’ time. It recalls Wild (Reece Witherspoon) more than the darker more intense and wider plotted The Survivalist (Martin McCann) but does little to examine the way people choose to live in any real sense. This is a very singular tale told well with a crescendo of and ending no one would be expecting in their wildest imaginings but Tom Geens has us believe this very edgy, very provocative, insular movie and he manages to, as movies of this kind do confine us to within his horizons.

John Graham

5 April 2016


It is on at QFT Belfast from Friday 8 April, this Friday, to Thursday 14 April 2015. It’s not a bundle of laughs and is at times very disturbing and though it has a 12a ratings it is likely to cause some a few nightmares which you would not wish on anyone!

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