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CPH:DOX Round-up II: Fungi, Couples Therapy and Filming Strangers

by Alex Elder

"Half the fun of these films are in the joy of encountering the unexpected"
The Mushroom Speaks (2021) dir. Marion Neumann (Still: Marion Neumann)

With CPH:DOX festival now sadly over for the year, here’s our second and final installment of highlights from the enthralling and highly diverse slate of documentaries on offer.

A Man with a Camera (2021) dir. Guido Hendrikx

One of the bizarrest titles on the DOX slate, A Man with a Camera is an hour-long documentary shot, predominantly, on the doorsteps of ordinary individuals from the Dutch hinterlands. Guido Hendrikx’ subjects open their front doors and suddenly find themselves face-to-face with a mysterious, silent camera operator filming them. There were only two rules for Hendrikx when shooting this otherwise free-form film: the filmmaker was never allowed to communicate (verbally or nonverbally) with his subjects and once the front door was opened, the person being filmed must direct the encounter - deciding what happens during the filming and when it should come to an end.

A Man with a Camera‘s modest portrayal of humanity frequently shifts gears from apprehension as stand-offish neighbours threaten the camera man and demand answers to bursts of off-beat humour. The joy of viewing this film is in observing the surprising and disparate ways that people react to the bizarre situation they are thrown into by the mute cameraman. We see every response from rage to laughter, welcoming hospitality and even phone calls to the local authorities.

The most frequent response Guido’s camera receives is a simple desire for his subjects to understand: “What is the meaning of all this?” Tonally, this is the perfect question to have repeated throughout the film; half innocuous, half existential. As you hear the question, you can’t help but wonder why it is that, in our society, every action has to be explained by an explicitly defined meaning in order to make sense to others around us. When I watched this film, I found myself relating the subjects’ reactions to the camera to how I imagine early spectators of Duchamp’s Fountain might’ve reacted to such boundary-pushing artforms. I daren’t give any more away because half the fun of this film is in the joy of encountering the unexpected, which A Man with a Camera excels at.

Courtesy of Cineuropa

The Mushroom Speaks (2021) dir. Marion Neumann

Marion Neumann’s debut feature is an anthology of profiles and scientific practices operating in the fungal realm. Neumann casts her net quite wide in The Mushroom Speaks: beginning the documentary with the Matsutake mushroom, the first living thing to grow out of Japanse soil after nuclear devastation and now a culinary delicacy - more precious than gold.

Later on we get a digression through the world of psychedelic mushrooms and their potential therapeutic benefits for people suffering from depression. Embedded in amongst the interview clips from fungal farmers, mushroom scavengers & ecologists, we see dream-like close ups of mushrooms and poetic subtitles without a voice over, as if the fungi themselves are speaking to us in prose.

The film frequently highlights the acute links between mycology, the study of fungi, and our anthropocenic era. Mycorrhizal fungi, for example, attach themselves to a tree and initiate a codependent relationship where one being will not survive if the other perishes. This symbiosis could be seen as a pretty solid ecological metaphor for humanity’s relationship with fungi or even, on a smaller scale, a description of the dynamics of a romantic coupling. At one point Peter McCoy, a radical mycology activist, goes as far as stating that, as we initially evolved from fungi, human culture is itself a highly developed fungal microculture.

Some of the film’s most breath-taking visuals come in the form of macro shots which show the slow spread of a fungus’ root network, or mycelium, enveloping everything within its microscopic environment. These psychedelic scenes of roots fanning out to expand their infrastructure seem to visually rhyme with the lengthy shots Neumann adds of busy motor highways and a mesh of pedestrians walking in every direction. As I watched this masterful and meandering documentary, McCoy’s assertion that we are a species of fungi, however outlandish it might initially sound, only seemed to grow more and more valid, and spread like a mycelium in my head.

The Mushroom Speaks (2021) dir. Marion Neumann (Still: Marion Neumann)

Eventually (2021) dir. Rikke Nørgaard

Another bold debut, Rikke Nørgaard’s Eventually is best described as a cathartic couples therapy session packaged up in a highly experimental film form. A young couple in a messy relationship sit down in a cinema and play each other reconstructed episodes from their romantic history, which they themselves have each directed from memory. The end result is a highly unique and beautiful film that sensitively deals with modern romance.

As well as the couple seeing the ‘finished product’ of the filmed scenarios, Malik and Laura also get a glimpse behind the scenes and view their partner (for lack of a better word) on set, giving directions. As they help to explain the context of the relationship to the actors in each episode, which range from their idyllic first meeting to bust-ups over herpes, Malik and Laura can often be seen getting physically upset as they watch appects of their four year relationship play out in front of them. As they press for more details on how best to play a scene, the actors, who