Giraffe (Film Movement Plus, NR)

The first thing you see in Anna Sofie Hartmann’s debut feature film is a giraffe—several giraffes, in fact, who reside in the Knuthenborg Safaripark in Denmark, far from their African homeland. The giraffes won’t be seen again but stand as potent symbols of the film’s primary theme: displacement and its effects on living creatures.

Human transplant number one in Giraffe is Dara (Lisa Loven Kongsli), a Danish ethnologist whose adult life is in Berlin, but who has returned to her home country to take a temporary job on the island of Lolland, where she grew up. Her task? To collect objects and conduct interviews with the locals in order to document and preserve the island way of life for a museum, before it is destroyed forever by construction of a tunnel between Germany and Denmark. The islanders are in a state of anticipating their own displacement, and a third category of humans may also be counted among the displaced in this film: the foreign workers who are in Lolland to construct the tunnel.

Hartmann, who also wrote the screenplay, mixes fictional and documentary elements throughout Giraffe—for instance, Kongsli is an actor playing a fictional character, as is Jakub Gierszal, who plays Lucek, a Polish construction worker with whom she has a relationship. At the same time, many of the people she interviews are actual residents of Lolland, and some of the construction workers in the film are actually just that. The tunnel at the heart of the story is also real: it’s called the Fehmarn Belt fixed link and is intended to replace a ferry service connecting the two countries.

Giraffe is a slow, meditative film that echoes the way of life Dara is documenting, one far removed from the stresses and strains of modern suburban and urban life. It invites the viewer to relax into a contemplative state that allows appreciation of what is lost when we prioritize speed and movement and getting ahead over being present in every moment of every day. Jenny Lou Ziegel’s cinematography plays a key role in establishing that mood, gently inducing the viewer to  appreciate the human lives that will be upended, while capturing the flat and verdant landscape of the island, the broad seascape surrounding it, and the blue dome of sky above.

There’s not a lot of obvious drama in Giraffe: we know from the start that the tunnel will be built, the people will be displaced, the Polish construction workers will fulfill their contracts and move on, and so will Dara. Instead of focusing on conflict, Hartmann invites the viewer to simply observe the people and the land, and to recognize the value of both. It’s certainly not an anti-modernist or anti-EU film, and in fact is as European as a film can be: it’s a Danish-European co-production, while Hartmann is a native of Denmark who studied in Germany, the lead actors Kongsli and Gierszal are Norwegian and Polish, respectively, and Maren Eggert, who plays a ferry conductor, is German.

Another way to characterize Giraffe is as a classic festival film—it’s not intended to attract a huge audience, but is exactly what a certain subset of the filmgoing public will enjoy, and it offers pleasures you’ll never find in the blockbusters that dominate the U.S. box office. It did well on the festival circuit, winning the FIPRESCI prize at the 2019 Viennale and Best Film at the 2021 German Film Critics Association Awards. It’s also an excellent film for home viewing, as its quiet pace and focus on the human scale make it perfectly suited for screening in your living room. | Sarah Boslaugh

Giraffe is available on SVOD (subscription video on demand) from Film Movement Plus beginning March 28

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