Film - January

Even though it's not January, Tony Cross watched January...

January is the feature film debut of Andrey Paounev, an award winning Bulgarian documentary maker. It is adapted from Yordan Rodichov’s stage play and you can see the theatrical origins of the film in its limited locations, and the way characters enter and exit.

You might call it a folk horror film, but I think that’s stretching the horror part of the definition. At different points it made me think of Stalker, Waiting for Godot, Harold Pinter, and The Shining. It is one of those films that is driven by atmosphere as much as plot and characters so the sound, lighting and cinematography play a vital and effective part. In particular Vasco Viano, the cinematographer, deserves immense praise for the look of the film.

We begin, in black and white, with just two characters, the Porter (Samuel Finzi) and The Old Man (Iossif Surchadzhiev). What they do is vaguely mysterious. They look after what looks like an old Soviet era hotel. It borders a large forest, which everyone talks about in a vaguely fearful manner. The snow lies thick upon the ground and continues to fall throughout. It feels like the opposite of a winter wonderland. Twice in the early part of the film people say, “Who would go into the woods in winter?” or “Who would go into the woods in January?” There was a third person, Petar, but he left early in the morning to go to the city, through the forest. He took the horse, sled and rifle. Everyone is expecting him back.

Throughout the film people arrive and depart. First of all the drivers of a snow plough, which is stuck, arrive. One of them we never really see. He remains wrapped up in goggles and a scarf. The other, appears sinister and threatening (Zachary Baharov). The truth is everyone who arrives is sinister and threatening.

Whilst they are dealing with these two the horse and sled return, but without Petar. There is his coat, the rifle, and – most mysteriously of all – a frozen wolf tied in the back. What the hell is going on?

They bring the wolf in. The wrapped up figure takes the sled to go into the woods to find Petar: “Listen to the horse” says the other snow plough driver, “they can sense the wolves.” He goes and then a Priest arrives. The Priest also has threatening and sinister vibes. He’s looking for Petar. But Petar left early in the morning the Porter tells him. But as the snow has kept falling there are no longer any tracks so, as the old man says, how can we know anything?

The rest of the film is a series of comings and goings. Someone goes into the woods on the sled. The sled comes back and we add another wolf to the collection. The electricity plays up throughout the film and in the final moments there’s a whole section that switches to colour and definitely apes The Shining. Whether that is in the original stage play or not I don’t know. It feels odd even in this strange dreamlike film.

So, as the film ends, what was that about and does it matter? You could see it as an allegory. But for what? For the fall of communism? For the history of eastern Europe? For life and death? Is it all a dream. Even a dog’s dream. And does it matter.

Both Pinter and Beckett seemed uninterested in explaining the meaning of their work. It is what you want it to be. And perhaps there’s an element of that here so prepare to be frustrated if you don’t find philosophical, theatrical, dreamy, gently paced art to be your cup of tea, because I suspect you’ll find it dull and pretentious. On the other hand if those kind of things are your cup of tea then it is perfect for you.

Your enjoyment of this will depend on your tolerance of that kind of production. If you’re looking for action sequences and jump scares, this is almost certainly not for you. But if you’re looking for a film where the look, sound and performances build into something that wraps you up in its Beckett-like dreamy atmosphere then this might be perfect for you.

Bulldog Film Distribution presents January available on Digital now.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Image - Bulldog Film Distribution

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