Saturday 11 September 2010

On DVD: "Ivul"

An element of play is essential to Ivul, the latest fable from exiled Brit director Andrew Kötting. The Ivuls are a French family of Russian extraction who live in secluded bliss in the Pyrenean countryside. A little too secluded, it turns out, judging from the growing attraction between siblings Alex (Jacob Auzanneau) and Freya (Adélaïde Leroux). When the pair's overbearing papa (Jean-Luc Bideau) finds them in a compromising position - the consequence of a relatively innocent parlour game involving Alex blowing raspberries on Freya's stomach - the son is banished. "Get off my land," pop commands: words Alex takes quite literally, scaling the walls of the family home and vowing never to come down again, instead manoeuvring his way through the surrounding tree branches and rummaging through bins to find food and materials for shelter.

The film is thus an extension of that childhood game - referenced in the opening compilation of archived pastimes - in which players strive to keep themselves off the ground by whatever means for as long as they possibly can: the type of pursuit that can manifest itself in later life as a penchant for free running. It's certainly a fully physical performance from young Auzanneau, who uses Kötting's narrative framework as an opportunity for his own personal, eco-friendly high-wire act: part Philippe Petit, part Swampy. In a week without an obvious blockbuster, Ivul might be as close as the cinema gets to an action movie, the camera zooming in whenever it looks as though Alex's feet might touch la terre.

By inserting reversed and accelerated stock footage, Kötting teases out the thematic implications of such a game: the idea of a Fall, in particular, with Alex as the figure cast out from an earthly paradise for succumbing to his desires. (Lest we forget, Kötting's daughter - and co-star in his earlier film Gallivant - was christened Eden.) With his mane of white hair and bluff-to-commanding demeanour, Bideau could well pass for a God (or for the round-bellied financiers who've sent Kötting himself on the run) - though he, too, is eventually obliged to revert to an infantilised state, being spoonfed babyfood after falling victim of a stroke; the second half makes great play out of the fact the patriarch ends up locked in (inside his own body), where his heir has been locked out.

Kötting, of course, is not the only British filmmaker to have obliquely dramatised the state of exile they've found themselves in: the heroine of Peter Strickland's Katalin Varga, from last year, was driven from her community and harried and harassed across the Carpathian mountains, left in an untenable position. As avatars for directors out of favour go, however, Alex seems a sturdier and more resourceful sort; up until Ivul's last-reel inferno - Kötting turning the screen over to hellfire - this bizarro, highly textured effort makes going off the map appear really rather fun.

Ivul is available on DVD from Monday.

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