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Sleeping Giant – Young Critics Workshop 2015

Sleeping Giant (Andrew Cividino, 2015)


At the heart of Sleeping Giant is an ageing, decomposed piece of dirty-video footage stored on VHS, barely a few seconds long. In it: a skin-coloured body hurtles itself over the edge of a tall cliff to fall to a low-resolution render of a quiet ocean surface at the bottom of the frame. Its curator is a local hobo, weed-vendor, urban legend who, at the moment, is being visited in his mobile home by the three protagonists – Adam, Riley and Nate, curious teenagers, a perverse boyband – a pertinent sample of most of our hobo’s general clientele. A tense moment or two, body in mid-air, spectators enthralled – and then, as soon as the body meets the ocean, a violent, beautiful, vertical explosion of pixels. Throughout the film, the tape is played, rewinded, replayed, people break for smoke, and then, played again – a system of ritualistic consumption which ensures that its contents are soon entered into local, town folklore.

It is appropriate too that the record of a purely physical feat (physical, for it is discussed always in terms of precise quantities: our protagonists spend a minute in the assessment of features like height, duration, etc.) constitutes the central mythology of the fictional universe in front of us; this is after all a film primarily about bodies, their surfaces, their textures, their limitations and their possibilities. These young boys – newly pubic – chart trajectories across a small Canadian town: they run, jump, skate, drive and swim. And when stationary, their conversation quickly turns to bodily functions: fucking, or fighting, or masturbating.

Director Andrew Cividino extends their obsession with the tangible to the aesthetic of the film, which is a tapestry of textures in close-up: egg yolk, dead fish, cheeseballs, feathers of a dead bird, human skin, burnt ants, arcade-pixels and sea-waves. Alternatively, landscapes (the film begins with a heady ocean-rattle soundtrack and ends with an image of the quiet shore – the film seems to adopt the structure of a monthly tidal pattern): seawater, tree-canopies, mountain-tops, beaches, urban tar. Much like the day’s earlier film, Slow West, these exist only as locations of possible conquest, not of romance. And in the middle of all this, sexual curiosity: a woman in various stages of undress viewed through a telescope, forearms that graze violently against each other during a basketball game, a sauna where semi-nude youngsters discuss shagging  – skin as the venue of all grand narrative transformation.

There is also always the unsaid: an extra-marital affair, a gas-station robbery, homosexuality, teenage jealousy, ego-games, a devious conspiracy – suburban closet-skeletons that seem that they will, at various points in the film, whirpool into a final, giant, life-altering event, but surprisingly (and this is the film’s greatest accomplishment) never do. Even more significantly, the writing of the film makes them seem ordinary and commonplace (see: Bruno Dumont’s films about young people in small towns) – events that transpire over the course of a normal, annual summer vacation that lasts with people sitting on the beach, staring at the sea, reconciled to the blunt force of stupid, human impulse.