You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Locarno Film Review: ‘Giraffe’

Director Anna Sofia Hartmann blends real elements with a fictional story of an ethnologist cataloging a rural area undergoing major changes.

Lisa Loven Kongsli, Jakub Gierszał, Maren Eggert

Running time: 88 MIN.

When visiting zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, we don’t find it strange to come across animals far removed from their native lands: lemurs in the Bronx, penguins in Rome, bonobos in Berlin. In our increasingly globalized society, the same can be said for our fellow humans, who don’t necessarily seem out of place, no matter how diverse their backgrounds — even though moving to another part of one’s own country can still seem foreign.

Anna Sofie Hartmann’s ruminative film “Giraffe” poignantly explores that feeling of place and belonging, together with the evanescence of our impact on those who follow us. It’s a film of big themes on an intimate scale that lovingly acknowledges the unimaginable wealth of stories inside everyone we encounter, while also looking at how we negotiate the place of memory in our lives. Hartmann’s conduit is a young ethnologist cataloging a rural island community before a new tunnel changes the population and landscape. While the film has a welcome specificity, its themes are universally profound. “Giraffe” is more than festival fodder, and deserves arthouse attention.

There really are giraffes in the Knuthenborg Safaripark on the southern Danish island of Lolland, though it’s not clear whether the opening shot of the animals munching leaves against a bright blue sky was taken there or in the African savanna. The image that follows however, of a ferry coming into port, is very much Denmark, with typical steely Scandi tonalities. A tunnel, called the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, is about to be built linking Lolland with Germany, and Dara (Lisa Loven Kongsli, “Force Majeure”) is arriving back in her home country from Berlin to chronicle the way of life that’s about to change forever.

The tunnel is real, and so are a number of the people Dara speaks with who will shortly be displaced. Some live in homes built by their families generations earlier, like Birte and Leif, unable to imagine their farm covered in asphalt, whereas others are more recent arrivals with less of a connection to the land. While exploring the area, Dara comes upon an abandoned house in which she finds photo albums and the journal-like diary of a librarian named Agnes Sørenson. The entries draw Dara in, their sparsity adding a further level of fascination. Who was this woman who left such personal items just 15 years ago, only to disappear without explanation? What was this life like, and does something of it remain among Agnes’ possessions, or in the house?

During her explorations, Dara meets a young guy named Lucek (Jakub Gierszał, “Beyond Worlds”), part of a Polish crew laying fiber cable in the area. Like the people she’s been interviewing, most of the Poles are real laborers in Denmark who at one point talk about their hopes on first arriving in Scandinavia, the dreams they had of bringing their families there, and the disappointments and prejudice that followed. Against this doc-like backdrop, Dara and Lucek start a relationship whose chemistry and directness is a delight to watch. There’s the usual hesitant physical awkwardness on first meeting but then Dara, 14 years older, can’t stop staring at the handsome man (several times he asks her to stop staring), as if she can’t quite believe in his beauty and wants to record it all in her head. She has a boyfriend in Berlin but for now she’s so pleased with herself, not egotistically or in a way that negates his feelings, but with a simple, genuine thrill in the brief romance.

There’s one other fictional role, Käthe (Maren Eggert), a woman who works on the ferry and watches the passengers while imagining the hopes and dreams of those who pass briefly before her during the short sea journey during which time seems to stand still. Though Käthe is a minor figure, Hartmann’s superb script, intellectual but not overly so, doesn’t short-change the character, who acts as a kind of humane Charon ferrying people not into an eternal afterlife, but towards vast, fading corridors of memory with no known terminus. Both Dara and Käthe use their imaginations to project entire lives onto strangers, as acts of generosity: “Giraffe” refuses to reduce people to packaged screen stories, insisting that everyone is a complex person with insoluble bonds to locations that aren’t severed when they’re uprooted and displaced.

The steady, unforced electricity between Loven Kongsli and Gierszał proves incredibly compelling, her simple radiance matched by his understated charisma; they’re also terrific with the non-professionals. Visuals have an admirable formal rigor that insists on the centrality of people rather than cold compositions, which is very much in keeping with the film’s generous exploration of humanity. Mirrors appear in several scenes, their reflections further underlining the three-dimensionality of people treated both by the camera and the script as multi-faceted.

Popular on Variety

Locarno Film Review: 'Giraffe'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Out of Competition), Aug. 11, 2019. Running time: 88 MIN.

Production: (Denmark-Germany) A Komplizen Film, Profile Pictures, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg production, in collaboration with Danmarks Radio. Producers: Jonas Dornbach, Maren Ade, Janine Jackowski. Co-producers: Ditte Milsted, Jacob Jarek, Caroline Schlüter Bingestam.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Anna Sofie Hartmann. Camera (color): Jenny Lou Ziegel. Editor: Sofie Steenberger.

With: Lisa Loven Kongsli, Jakub Gierszał, Maren Eggert, Mariusz Feldman, Przemysław Mazurek, Janusz Chojnacki, Piotr Olszański, Andrzej Wicher, Piotr Jurczyk, Robert Płachta, Mirosław Piorunek, Christoph Bach. (Danish, English, Polish, German dialogue)

More Film

  • Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film

    Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film 'Sole' to U.S., France (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fiorella Moretti and Hedi Zardi’s Paris-based sales agency Luxbox has closed several territory deals on Carlos Sironi’s “Sole,” which screened in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section and Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery sidebar. The film just won the audience award at Pingyao Intl. Film Festival in China and a Special Jury Mention for the lead actors [...]

  • Puerto Rican singer Ozuna poses during

    Ozuna Joins Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious 9'

    Trap and reggaeton singer Ozuna has signed on for a role in “Fast & Furious 9” and is in talks to appear on the film’s soundtrack. Justin Lin, who directed “Fast & Furious 6,” returns to direct the ninth installment with franchise mainstay Vin Diesel starring as Dominic Toretto. Dan Casey wrote the screenplay from [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Boosting Efforts in Project Development Amid Agency Standoff

    The Writers Guild of America, locked in a six-month standoff with major talent agencies, has announced that it’s boosting efforts at gathering TV, streaming and film project development data to help members find new employment opportunities. The WGA made the disclosure in a message to members on Monday. The guild directed its 15,000 members to fire [...]

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    AFI Fest Adds 'The Two Popes,' 'Aeronauts,' Alan Pakula Tribute

    The American Film Institute has added “The Two Popes” and “The Aeronauts” as galas during the upcoming AFI Fest along with a tribute to the late director Alan Pakula. AFI had previously announced that the romantic drama “Queen & Slim” would launch the 33rd annual festival on Nov. 14 and close with the world premiere [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Recalls Husband Blake Edwards' Battle With Depression

    The line to see Julie Andrews at the 92nd Street Y wrapped around the square of a sprawling New York City block. Seventy years since the start of her career, 60 since she asked “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” as Lerner and Loewe’s first Eliza and 50 since she sang “The Sound of Music” before the [...]

  • Bloodshot (Vin Diesel) in Columbia Pictures'

    Vin Diesel Comes Back to Life in 'Bloodshot' Trailer

    Vin Diesel is coming back again and again in Sony Pictures’ first trailer for “Bloodshot.” In the forthcoming superhero adventure, Diesel portrays Ray Garrison a.k.a. Bloodshot, a soldier who gets rebuilt by a corporation following his death. The clip, released Monday and scored to Johnny Cash’s rendition of the ballad “Memories are Made of This,” [...]

  • Bouli Lanners Teams With 'Peaky Blinders'

    Bouli Lanners Teams With 'Peaky Blinders' Director Tim Mielants on 'Wise Blood'

    Bouli Lanners, the Belgian actor-director of “The Giants” and “Eldorado,” is teaming with “Peaky Blinders” helmer Tim Mielants to direct “Wise Blood,” an English-language film that will star “Game of Thrones” actor Michelle Fairley and Julian Glover. “Wise Blood” is a Belgian-Scottish-French co-production between Versus Production, Barry Crerar, and Playtime, which will handle international sales [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content