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Couple in a Hole (4 stars)

Glasgow Film Festival: Kate Dickie and Paul Higgins shine as the titular twosome

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Couple in a Hole

With a premise as advertised, Belgian writer-director Tom Geens’ second feature (following 2009’s Menteur) finds a displaced couple living in the bowels of a French forest. There’s a mystery here that’s satisfactorily resolved, but it’s not the film’s primary focus. Instead Geens gives us a wonderfully wonky look at marriage that doubles as a penetrating examination of trauma.

‘We’re tough, we’re strong. We’re from Scotland,’ asserts John (Paul Higgins) when asked how he and wife Karen (Kate Dickie) will survive outdoor-living during the impending harsh winter. The pair have taken comfort in nature in what’s tantamount to a return to the womb; Karen has been left near-mad by a tragic event and, with John bearing up better, he shows her admirable devotion as he forages for food and patiently tries to coax her out of the hole. Unbeknownst to his wary, agoraphobic spouse, John has attracted a pal on the outside, farmer André (Jérôme Kircher), whose benevolence is matched only by his indolence and whose own wife Céline (Corinne Masiero) is aggressively, and suspiciously, opposed to the fledgling friendship.

The film’s dynamic score, composed by the band Beak, reflects both the tranquility and eccentricity of the central duo’s lifestyle and there’s visual distinction and humour in their off-the-wall predicament – the shaft of light that Karen sits in to sew, the crack that she furtively peers through, how she’s almost totally camouflaged by woodland grime when John goes searching for her.

The performers, meanwhile, are superb, with Higgins (best known for TV’s The Thick of It) and the always-excellent, ever-courageous Dickie rendering all that unfolds hypnotising and completely credible. And, as matters draw to a close, the film descends into well-executed hysteria, thrillingly amping up the drama. This unusual take on love and loss is notable for its almost surprising sincerity and elevated by its unforgettable peculiarity.

Screening on Thu 25 and Fri 26 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2016. Selected release from Fri 8 Apr.

Couple in a Hole

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • UK/Belgium/France
  • 105 min
  • Directed by: Tom Geens
  • Cast: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher
  • UK release: 8 April 2016

Scottish couple John (Higgins) and Karen (Dickie) literally live in a hole in a French forest, after she has been driven near-mad by a tragic event. A wonderfully wonky look at marriage and trauma, with superb performances from Higgins and the ever-excellent Dickie; surprising, sincere and unforgettably peculiar.

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