Tuesday 9 October 2018

De Natura (Lucile Hadžihalilović, 2018)

Although her career dates back to the 1980s, Lucile Hadžihalilović has made just two feature films - Innocence (2004) and Evolution (2015); in their respective years, both of those excellent Belgian co-productions played at the London Film Festival.  Hadžihalilović returns to the LFF with this new short film, which screens as part of the festival's This is the Sound, This is the Picture programme on 16 and 17 October.  Across her output to date, Hadžihalilović has developed a highly distinctive style; she's an interesting filmmaker, yet also a highly frustrating one as she - like her husband and occasional collaborator Gaspar Noé - makes too few films (eleven years separate her full-length efforts).  That said, two feature films are not the sum total of her career so far, as, in addition to her important contributions to a number of Noé's films, she has directed a clutch of shorts prior to De Natura - although this new film marks her first work since Evolution.

As with both of Hadžihalilović's features, the focus of De Natura is firmly on children, and the film follows two young girls at the height of summer.  Hadžihalilović is very interested in both the girls and their bucolic surroundings, as we see (and hear) a flowing stream, a crackling fire, rustling leaves, and so on.  There's no story as such, but rather what we have here is a visual tone poem, a slice of Cinéma pur which takes things back to the notion that film is a visual and aural medium; as if to reinforce this point, the negligible dialogue isn't subtitled.  The film could play anywhere in the world without the need for any translation, and it prompts us to ask: shouldn't we be able to watch any film anywhere and have it speak to us?  Doesn't a film essentially fail when it relies on its dialogue, thereby ignoring the emotional responses which can be elicited by sounds and images?  Regardless of how you might answer those questions, De Natura does well to throw them up while simultaneously casting its spell.

Hadžihalilović's De Natura screens at the LFF just a few weeks after the general release of Gaspar Noé's Climax - as already noted, neither filmmaker churns them out, so it's a welcome coincidence to have a new film from each within such a short space of time (although it has happened before - Noé's Love was released in the same year as Evolution).  The two works could hardly be further apart, however, with the lush, lyrical De Natura pretty much the antithesis of the frenetic, hypercharged Climax.  Unlike in both Innocence and Evolution, the children of De Natura appear to exist in a world devoid of menace, although Hadžihalilović's track record programs us to initially assume that something sinister is afoot in the forest where the girls merrily play.  The absence of such a threat marks a nice change of pace for this director, and the film adds yet another layer of intrigue to her slim, if impeccable, oeuvre.

Darren Arnold

Images: META Cinema