In a way the least interesting thing about Stockholm, My Love is the film itself. As one of Mark Cousins’ essay pieces it has a soft easygoing gentility to it. You sorta wanna watch it lying down, or maybe in a relaxation tank just somewhere where you don’t have to worry about keeping your neck lifted at the screen for the images to come and wash over you.
Honestly, far from the realms of film, what it reminded me most of was The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther. The way that our exploration of this space becomes a metaphor for the experiences we have within it. I mean, they share the same themes, grief, loss, forgiveness, a car accident at the side of some grey road that changes life forever. Only, we are not in control of the movement here, local musician Neneh Cherry is. She examines these spaces for us and with us, a sorta liminal figure, she rarely speaks, we get a lot of voiceover.
Stockholm means a lot to her character, she’s an architect so she contextualises the world in that way, it makes sense to her. She talks about class and immigration, about how all these buildings at some point represented a dream of the architect’s, if only their patterns could be continued they’d think then perfection could be obtained. We believe that too often in our own lives as well, if my routines could be propagated right then I would be the best person, somehow it never work that way.
Like the white lines scored into the cliffside of a deserted Scottish island or the crumbling brickwork of its abandoned bothy, Cousins manages to make his images seem more than they are. When that gets to be a stretch he goes back to Cherry’s face as she lets her performance creep slowly out from that impenetrable facade.
It could also be read, if you’ll allow me, as a conversation between the flick’s two different cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Cousins. Like, there’s a pretty distinct division between their work. Cousins’ style is aggressively digital, handheld, his compositions sloppier, that wide lens bringing in a deep focus. His camera is a part of the world it inhabits, a very real physical object. When shooting in public passers-by look into the lens acknowledge the presence of the audience, in doing so recognise the position that they take as subjects. Or they don’t notice and we wonder if they were aware of how they had been intruded upon.
Doyle’s work is far more composed. We get the sense that if Cousins is the explorer, he’s the one to revel in the territory. His work is more elaborate, more detailed, smoother, and yet he must remain distant from the images he is creating. When for a moment everything slows and he plays with the light entering the lens he’s detailing to us all the force and change that he’d be bringing to a more traditional narrative feature. He is, by the way, a huge get here, just look at dude’s credits. He make it all so pretty.
Not that that’s all it got going for it, as meditative as it all is there are some moments of genuine transcendence. Like, there’s a bit in the back half with a rollercoaster that is just super but while I was watching I was just wanting it to become more experimental. Can his next one be one of those virtual reality 360º videos? Or could he go the full way and make a proper videogame world for us to explore?
From the whole of his output it’s clear that just about nobody knows or cares more about film than the dude. Even interspersed with this one we got some old archival footage, old filmstrips, but his ideas feel like they’re outgrowing film. There needs to be somewhere else that can fit them because cities by their very translation cannot survive in two dimensions.
So it doesn’t quite work. Good enough tho.
Stockholm, My Love is currently screening in UK cinemas