by Alex Elder
"If your brain hasn’t exploded by this point I’m not sure that anything will ever shock you."
CPH:DOX, the nerdy, less exploitative younger sibling of Cannes Film Festival, kicked off last week in a rather unorthodox fashion. The Danish film festival had to move quickly to embrace ‘the new normal’ we’re experiencing and have made an admirable attempt to recreate the cutting-edge documentary and arthouse film festival in virtual space.
Whilst we’re bummed we’re not there in the flesh, wolfing down Smørrebrød and endlessly cycling around like any good Copenhagener should, we’ve been rattling through the titles available online in order to give you our top picks from this year’s selection. Even though these films aren’t currently out in UK cinemas, cinephiles should take note as many of our favourites from last year, such as Normal, The Disappearance of my Mother and Midnight Family, have received limited UK releases in the months following 2019’s festival.
Perfect Black (2019) (dir. Tom Fröhlich)
Tom Fröhlich’s third feature-length documentary is a curious series of episodes tied loosely together by his six subjects’ relentless search to find true, optical black.
Crammed full of breath-taking black and white cinematography and coupled with an eerie soundtrack to match; ‘Perfect Black’ is far from a straight science documentary with Brian Cox banging on about black holes.
From the synesthete musician, who describes black as a “very deep hum” and shares her solitary experience and perception of the world, to the marine biologist who finds joy 800 kilometers below sea level where creatures emit their own source of light, each individual’s immense passion for their vocation leads to some enthralling insights.
Hearing a tattoo artist talk about the permanence of his craft and the melting away of any ego in those moments of intense pain is almost like listening to a poem. When asked what black means to him, the tattooist replies it “means honesty… There is no motif on a black arm anymore. I can only look at that black surface. What’s left is the core of a human”.
One of the best and most visually interesting films of recent memory within the talking heads structure, ‘Perfect Black’ is an all-out sensory assault and a must-watch for the big screen; (so try not to settle for home-streaming like we’ve had to).
Related: Free online cinema for the clinically self-isolated
A Year Forever (2020) (dir. Pauline Merrildgaard)
In stark contrast to the eerie monochrome imagery and philosophical debates of ‘Perfect Black’, Pauline Merrildgaard’s ‘A Year Forever’ is a heartfelt, visually dreamy film that follows a group of 16 year olds experiencing their first time away from home at boarding school.
It’s a brilliantly intimate portrait that documents the joys, fears and uncertainties we’ve all experienced when reaching the cross-roads that is adolescence. From existential questions about what happens after we die to more mundane tensions around acne breakouts and girl troubles, Merrildgaard’s debut captures these moments at close proximity, both physically and interpersonally, and stitches them together with an impressionistic flair. With so much close-up, hand-held camerawork, you feel like one of the gang; waiting for that sixth form acceptance letter to arrive or feeling the adrenaline rush when the group plays a gig at a small venue in Copenhagen.
The pressures of neoliberalism hang subtly in the film’s bac