A British couple (John and Karen) are living in a hole in the middle of a forest in France. She barely dares leave the hole, while he forages for food and water and looks after her carefully. When she's bitten by a poisonous spider, they have to seek help from the outside world, which tips the balance of their precarious existence. (Given that this was supposed to be a very poisonous spider and they did no first aid and took ages to find help, I wondered whether she actually would have survived this).
This isn't as I had originally expected before I read the reviews, a post-apocalyptic story, but something more metaphorical. It gradually becomes clear that the couple are trying to come to terms with grief, and the hole (although literally consistent with the storyline) is also to be seen metaphorically, as the safe place where Karen can't stand to leave to try to face the world again. She sits and makes quilts from found materials and wraps up tiny offerings in leaves and waits for John to return with food. The fact that outside the hole is French-speaking and neither of them speak the language at all well also ties in with the sense of alienation and isolation they feel in their grief.
The big wide world that Karen is so scared of is stunningly beautiful, a wooded area of the Mid-Pyrenees. This got me thinking about her hiding in the hole being also a metaphor for the modern day reluctance of many of us to genuinely engage with the natural world. I actually began to wonder about the film-makers ability to engage with nature, as, though the cinematography is gorgeous and we get wonderful detailed views of red kites and wood ants, there are constant references to the 'coming winter' when it's clear from almost every outdoor shot, given the amount of birdsong and very green leaves, that it was actually shot in late spring, early summer. Admittedly, winter probably arrives early in a mountainous area like this, but perhaps this is metaphor too, given that in a sense winter is always just round the corner, but I kept thinking to myself 'but chiffchaffs wouldn't be singing like that if it were almost winter'. The perils of bird-watching during films!
The ending is cathartic, but (not wanting to give spoilers) felt wrong somehow, I felt it would have been better if it had been more like the in some ways very similar ending of Chicken, an otherwise entirely different film, one of my highlights from last year's Edinburgh International Film festival which I reviewed here. But thinking about it it's an ambiguous ending, it wasn't entirely clear what the characters fates were at the end so maybe its more of a right ending than it felt to me at the time.
Overall, it's a very beautiful and engrossing film about coping mechanisms and relationships and how precarious life can be. Definitely a film worth watching.
Couple in a Hole is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse today at 15.35.