Opening to the sound of both a pleasant guitar and an ominous drone, director Frederik Edfeldt’s Sanctuary (Faro) is one of those films whose programme notes are tellingly light on analysis and heavy on adjectives. As a tale of opposites – father, daughter; guilt, innocence; responsibility, naivety; civilisation, nature; realism, utopianism – this handsomely shot film about a suspected murderer and his daughter, who retreat to a forest idyll to elude the law, is a cataloguer’s haven, presenting as it does the opportunity to fetch out the adjectives to fill the gaping void left behind by the film itself.
Karin Arrhenius’s script is a bare-bones drama-cum-thriller in which Hella (impressive debutante Clara Christiansson) follows her dad (Jakob Cedergen, “he doesn’t look like a killer”) into the woods to escape the cops, who suspect the latter of killing a man. Shooting their dog (“he’s too old to come with us”) and packing essentials, daddy sends the police’s car into a ditch when he closely passes a truck on an otherwise abandoned road; erects a makeshift fortress complete with a toilet; sets up a temporary bliss in which Hella and he can live off the fat o’ the land in homage to Badlands (1972).
Abandoning society and correlative notions of time (the ticking of a clock recurs throughout), the duo bond and reminiscence. “Remember that girl at summer camp who starved herself to death?” Hella asks her dad. Why wouldn’t he? This is one of many scenes whose dialogue is sparked by a remember-when. In the one scene in which he opens up, Hella’s dad reveals that of all the places he’s visited in the world (he reels them off one by one), Faro is the one where he always wanted to build a home.
The film’s domestic title takes its name from the Portuguese resort, though its switch for international exhibition is fitting. For, like its protagonists, Sanctuary prefers to escape real-world responsibilities too, with everyone bar Hella credited as their functional roles (The Father, The Policeman, etc.). It’s barely a notch above the vulgar essentialism of Sokurov’s Mother and Son (1997) – might a better title have been Father and Daughter? Indeed, because it has no real relationship to or interest in the material world – it could in fact be set anytime, anywhere – a film of this ilk can be wholly original without ever seeming new.
And, of course, at essential moments, a valuable discovery never seems to be too far away: food, shelter, threat, a road to happen upon and walk down while the end credits scroll upward like some self-satisfied roll of honour.
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