A belated addition to my Best Of 2009 films list: Gideon Koppel’s seriously sublime sleep furiously, an evocative and poetic documentary capturing a year in the mid-Wales village of Trefeurig, where the director - the son of German immigrant parents - grew up. (Koppel’s mother is one of the two main “protagonists” in the film, though you'll only find that out from reading the DVD notes: she’s never “introduced” as such.) The director’s approach, both in terms of the construction of individual sequences and the film entire, is fragmentary yet fluid, discreet yet direct. Particular activities - cake-making, a school music lesson, a cow giving birth, distribution of hymn-books in church, sheep-sheering, a town council meeting, a lamb taking its first tentative steps, choir practice, the arrival of the mobile library van - are presented without “context” yet convey the routines and rhythms of village life to perfection. Snapshots of daily tasks create a portrait, and the movie is helped along by a lovely tinkling score by Aphex Twin. In one particularly wonderful scene, one of the villagers reads a Pam Ayres-ish poem about the benefits of a wooden signpost.
Koppel’s approach to his material - about as far from the Michael Moore Methodology as you could possibly get - is too subtle for polemics, though an epigraph near to the end of the film - “It’s only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak, the courage but not the words” - obliquely summarises the elegiac quality of the documentary and makes sense of previous scenes in which the closure of the post office and the village school are mentioned. This is a community that may sadly appear an anachronism to many in the modern world.
The oblique title of Koppel’s documentary is taken from Noam Chomsky’s example of a semantically nonsensical yet grammatically correct sentence: “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.” sleep furiously is not, overtly, a work that seems preoccupied by “ideas.” And yet in a way that’s precisely what it is: this tightly focused, deeply engaged and resonant film ushers the viewer into a meditative state of quiet, respectful contemplation.