Danish film-maker Anna Sofie Hartmann has crafted this elegant, muted docu-fiction about our fragile sense of identity and place. It’s a movie whose subtle thoughts are in danger of being upstaged by a potent and erotic love story that surfaces and then disappears, leaving you uncertain whether finally to be more interested in that romance or the ruminations it has interrupted – or enlivened. Giraffe reminded me at various moments of WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and the films of Valeska Grisebach, who appears in the final credits for “dramaturgical guidance”.
Norwegian star Lisa Loven Kongsli plays Dara, who is working on an oral history project in the Danish island of Lolland, where a new road bridge connecting Denmark to Germany is being built. She is interviewing the owners of farms due to be demolished and making a record of an agrarian community that is on the point of being lost for ever. Then Dara meets and has an affair with Lucek (Jakub Gierszal), one of the Polish construction workers creating the concrete and asphalt that will be obliterating all this history. Hartmann leaves it up to us to notice the spiritual disloyalty involved in this sexual adventure; Dara herself does not ponder it.
The director uses nonprofessionals in various roles as interviewees, both the Danish farm families and the Polish construction workers. A professional actor, Maren Eggert, plays Dara’s friend Käthe, who works on the ferry and broods on the lonely passengers she sees, and Lucek is going to end up being just such a passenger.
And that title? An enigma. We see a giraffe gazing directly into the camera at the beginning but it is never overtly referenced again, although we glimpse a photograph of one in one of the opening scenes. The giraffe is an exotic, magnificent creature, whose height gives it a sort of detachment. Perhaps it symbolises alienation and dislocation, and in their loneliness Dara and Lucek feel both these things intensely.
• Giraffe is on Mubi from 6 August.
Source: The Guardian