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A Documentary with “Spirit, and Soul” – U.S. Critics on “sleep furiously”

American critics may not be able to read the signs, but they love the Welsh documentary all the same.

American critics may not be able to read these road signs, but they love the Welsh documentary "sleep furiously" all the same.

American critics may not be able to read these road signs, but they love the Welsh documentary "sleep furiously" all the same.

At the start of the week we shared a selection of choice praise from British critics on Gideon Koppel’s documentary sleep furiously. As uniformly positive as those reviews were, there was underlying subplot of suspense: would American critics be as appreciative of the film upon its U.S. digital-theatrical premiere this Friday?

The answer appears to be yes – it turns out that Koppel’s portrayal of life in a quiet Welsh farm village transcends cultural boundaries. Read what American reviewers have to say:

WATCH SLEEP FURIOUSLY ON FANDOR.

Gideon Koppel’s free-form portrait of a Welsh farming community may be the most subtly poetic piece of cine-anthropology to come down the pike in eons. Rural denizens like a choir teacher and a mobile librarian quietly go about their business, and country living is presented as both hardscrabble and oddly heartening. Koppel may come from the Wise-maniac school of documentarians, where narrationless observation dictate the structure. But he isn’t above underlining his vérité with, say, a long shot that turns herded sheep into tiny white ants, all the better to awaken you to the beauty that lurks in the mundane.

- David Fear, Time Out New York

It’s tempting to read Gideon Koppel’s sleep furiously as a bittersweet ode to the antiquated community in which he was raised, or, God forbid, to view it as some sort of call-to-arms to not let this slow, quiet way of life fade into oblivion. The truth is that it isn’t either of those things. By refusing to make any grand, preachy statements, Koppel has achieved something far more commendable and deceptively complex—he’s preserved the pulse, spirit, and soul of this place and its people.

In a character sense, sleep furiously’s show-stealer is an adorable elfin older woman named Pip, who is actually the filmmaker’s mother. To his credit, this is never addressed in the film; by refusing to explicitly acknowledge just how personal this film is to Koppel, he enables it to become that much more personal for each individual viewer. For example, in one scene, Pip hangs laundry outside and speaks to her dog as she weakly calls out for her puppy to return. At that moment, I was overcome with emotion, recalling the memory of visiting my own adorable little granny in Ireland, who lived on similarly rugged terrain. Too much explicating by Koppel wouldn’t have given me the space to connect with the film in this intimate manner.

- Michael Tully, Filmmaker Magazine / Hammer to Nail

“It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak. The courage, but not the words.”

These words appear onscreen near the end of “Sleep Furiously,” and its closing shots are somewhat courageous, haunting in their sense of loss but never overbearing. Koppel’s thesis statement, if I can call it that, is best explained by an amateur writer’s poem about a new signpost on his block. The old wooden one rotted after many years of service, and the new one, shinier and more technologically advanced than the old one, moved whenever the wind blew, sending travelers on the wrong roads to some harshly spelled Welsh towns. The poem points out that the new things are always inevitable but not always better. Like “Sleep Furiously,” it simply highlights what happens when unstoppable progress comes to town.

- Odie Henderson, Roger Ebert.com Movies On Demand

The difference between a film about a person and a film about a place is that setting is always richer than character. This is not a fact so much as a personal observation. Maybe it depends on whether you prefer vacations in which you primarily visit with people or places. Since I’m typically on the side of the latter, I’ll always enjoy a documentary like Gideon Koppel’s “Sleep Furiously,” which in part takes us on a tour of a Welsh farming community called Trefeurig.

What I like about docs such as this is how they transport me to another land. Just as true tourism experiences may be contingent on a guide’s perspective, virtual tourism is often likewise, only it’s more of a visual matter.

- Christopher Campbell, Indiewire Spout blog

The featurette by Gideon Koppel, A Sketchbook for The Library Van, works almost as the exact opposite of Sleep Furiously. Koppel filmed it in 2005 as he was seeking funding to make Sleep Furiously.

Filmed in black and white, while there are some shots of Trefeurig and The Library Van, the bulk of its running time consists of members of the community standing against a white background and sharing tales about themselves and Trefeurig. In a way, it might be more interesting to watch Sketchbook first so when some of the same people pop up in Sleep Furiously you’ll have a better idea who they are.

- Edward Copeland on Film

Still more:

“A lingering, mildly lyrical look at village life” - Michelle Orange, Village Voice

“An unusual and quietly stirring piece of work.” - James van Maanen, Trust Movies

“A luminous documentary with music by Aphex Twin”Louis Proyect

“Captures, in a gentle and beautiful way, the peculiar feeling of weather, language and social interaction in this small green corner of the British Isles.” - Robert Horton, Herald Net

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