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Giant’s Kettle (Hiidenkirnu)

A man and a woman go on about their daily lives in a series of static shots, in a superlative achievement of modern-day silent cinema - from the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

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Markku Hakala & Mari Käki’s gripping nightmare focuses on two people in a committed relationship slowly drowning in sadness together. Credited only as “man” and “woman”, Giant’s Kettle follows these two people in their daily lives, from the rigours of work to the tedium of family life. Missing the bus at a factory stop, the man waits for a sign to guide him to his next step. Falling headfirst into a secret lecture, the woman is examined by a group of curious men. And then there’s the child, who is constantly searching for motion in a film that features little to no dialogue. Suddenly, a giant enters their lives, impacting the environment around them, creating a shift that is larger than any they’ve encountered so far in the film. There is rare excitement watching these two come face to face with a seven-foot giant, their eyes wide and ready for action. And like so much of the film, it appears only when it wants to.

An outrageous homage of sorts to black-and-white cinema, Giant’s Kettle is dotted with visual flair, objects peering from the side of a screen with momentary, meditative pace. As opening shots go, Giant’s Kettle is certainly a memorable one: A paw print lights up to resemble the shape of a hand, before the man’s body enters focus, and he stares at the viewer, as if willing them to walk away from the screening. The man, it seems, is a stern, taciturn writer, who is prone to moments of intense rage. Between maintaining the rotational machinery that keeps the city afloat, and glowering and resentful stares at his child, he screams to the high heavens when he drops his briefcase containing his newly-written work.

The woman is involved in a deeply disturbing montage that sees her wrapped in plastic, wheeled around in a circle of faceless people. Her sorrow is lessened by the presence of a giant, who may be providing her with the spark that’s sorely missing from her life. From the very first moment she appears on screen, our female protagonist’s life is a calamitous cascade of ennui and nonsense, which might explain why she barely lifts a finger in order to help her infant son who is trailing on a carpet beside her. Shot entirely in black and white, the film makes use of sound: factory explosions punctuating the pregnant pauses between scenes, while a cascade of smoke is moulded by the crashing fade-outs that centre the work.

Is that the whole truth? The film offers no easy answers. The static scenes might indicate that this is a nightmare of sorts, a bridge between the sleeping world, and the one that is wide awake. Naturally, it could also be that the filmmakers are laughing at their audience, as the strains of the early segments are bolstered by the presence of an unnatural behemoth of Finnish culture in the latter ones. It ebbs and flows like an orchestral piece, although the lack of coda might be a little jarring for some audience members.

The absence of dialogue ratchets up the despair ruthlessly, and of the two lead actors, Henri Malkki is the more vulnerable looking. He spends most of the film seeking some sort of reaction that might offer context or contradiction to his daily routine. But wherever he turns – whether it’s on the bus, or within the factory he frequents – there is nothing but vacancy and absence of interaction.

This is a dark and heavy film; it tests the weight an audience member can withstand without colour or dialogue. That the directors managed to complete the film without a crew is even more admirable. Giant’s Kettle suffers from a lack of budget, some of the props are visibly fake, and there’s an audible look of boredom from the grandmother who appears in certain static sequences, but by and large, this is a superlative achievement of modern-day silent cinema.

Giant’s Kettle just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.


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