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The Human Hibernation

Quiet and exuberant arthouse film ruminates on the sensory bond between humans and animals - from the 58th edition of Karlovy Vary


A boy emerges from a hole in the ground, bang in the middle of a large forest clearing. It’s deep winter and the ground is covered with snow. The little child screams for help “Clara! Dove!”. Yet nobody hears his desperate plea. It’s not entirely clear how he ended up underground and what happens to him next. This exquisite poem to nature is more concerned with the sound, the visuals and the tactile than with a conventional narrative structure. So sit back comfortably in your chair and enjoy this hibernatory and oneiric 90-minute film experience. You will wake up from your cinema-induced trance feeling refreshed and energised.

Filmed almost entirely in upstate New York, The Human Hibernation sees the local animals co-exist in harmony, and interact with their local human cousins. A man caresses a bird. A woman exchanges a long and tender eye-gaze with a herd of cows. These rural Americans describe their life experience, bemoan their vicissitudes, and share the occasional philosophical pearl of knowledge. The observations are more anecdotal than scientific, in a movie that shuns didacticism in favour of open-ended interpretations. It sits somewhere between documentary and art installation. In fact, the project started as research piece and exhibit about the possibility of human hibernation, which then snowballed into a film.

In addition to the conspicuous bovines and the occasional bird, The Human Hibernation also boasts goats, dear, snakes, frogs, insects, a cheeky racoon, and much more. Extreme close-ups of a hatching chick and two love-making snails add yet another layer of beauty and serenity to this soothing journey into this vaguely familiar microhabitat. There is also a touch of queer eroticism, as same-sex couples embrace inside the forest, half-swollen by the verdant and lush vegetation, or lie naked on the house floor. The imagery is genuinely outstanding. Cold hues and sombre textures prevail. The camera movements are sparse and precise. The sound design blends the microsounds of animals and nature with the prose and the warble of human beings. An impromptu and very peculiar cabaret act injects a dose of humour an otherwise solemn affair.

It is remarkable that Anna Cornudella’s very first film (she never made a short film) should possess such sophisticated visual grammar. This was achieved on a budget smaller than the frisky molluscs. The 33-year-old Spanish filmmaker has a discernible Tarkovsky-esque sensibility. Supported by DoP Pol Camprubí and sound designer Laura Tomas, Anna managed to capture and to infuse nature with a quietly liberating sense of nostalgia, and to extract the metaphysical from the mundane. The long and slow sequences and contemplative and awe-inspiring.

The movie wraps up with the reassurance that no animals were harmed during the making of the film, and also that all creatures performed from the comfort of their respective homes. This of course includes both humans and animals. In other words: that’s just a bunch of beasts carrying on with their lives as normal. This is a movie urgent in its simplicity.

The Human Hibernation shows at the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. It premiered earlier this year in the Forum section of the 74th Berlinale, where it won the Fipresci prize.

By Victor Fraga - 04-07-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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