The title comes from a phrase created by Noam Chomsky, meaning words that are grammatically correct yet semantically nonsensical. Giddeon Koppel’s film is no scathing polemic however, but rather a quietly compelling and melancholic portrait of life in a Welsh rural community, which calls to mind the humane chronicles of ‘la France profonde’ by Nicolas Etre et avoir Philibert and Raymond Modern Life Depardon.
Trefeurig is a hill farming village in western Wales, to which Koppel’s Jewish parents fled from Nazi Germany. The filmmaker spent nearly nine months back in his homestead observing the rituals and traditions of the inhabitants with his Super 16mm camera, although this is far from being a conventional documentary study: there’s no voice-over, there are very few ‘characters’, and the connections between the vignettes of everyday existence are rarely spelt out. Footage is speeded up, coloured panels suddenly fill the screen, and unusual camera angles give the viewer fresh perspectives.
The two most significant human figures turn out to be Koppel’s widowed mother Pip, and the kindly mobile librarian John Jones. A tiny, physically resilient individual, the animal loving Pip seems completely unaffected by the presence of the camera, whilst the monthly visit of John’s yellow van is a reminder of how important books can be in establishing a sense of community. Koppel frequently drops in on unnamed people who are absorbed by their work, whether it’s teaching, baking, sheep shearing, milking, repairing vehicles, ploughing, haymaking, or cabinet-making. And he juxtaposes these images of human toil with shots of the magnificent surrounding countryside, captured in different seasons, lights and weather conditions.
The deep sadness here lies in the recognition that ‘progress’ will inevitably take its toll on the very essence of Trefeurig. Small-scale agriculture is in decline, the village school is set to close, and the closing epigraph reads, ‘It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak, the courage but not the words.’ Here Koppel has spoken, affectionately and lyrically, through his images, allowing us to see a disappearing world anew.
Selected release from Fri 29 May.