Andrew Kötting returns to screens this week with the wonderfully vivid and emotionally provoking documentary This Our Still Life (2011), courtesy of the BFI. This is a work that is not only innovative in its use of footage and cinematography but it is also incredibly thought provoking. Kötting has made use of a wealth of footage gathered from home videos over the past 22 years, shot in his rather bohemian, tumbledown Pyrenean farmhouse with his wife Leila and daughter Eden, who was born with a rare neurological disease.
The footage – divided into four seasons – harmonises into a magnificent family portrait exploring themes of nostalgia, place, time and perception, in what can only be described as a film of honesty and beauty. The central concept of This Our Still Life comes when Kötting and his daughter Eden started to draw still life pictures. The footage traces both of their artist endeavours raising the theme of perception, challenging the viewer to questions about how we observe the world around us and how we might use this creatively.
Taking this idea further is the setting of the footage in the isolated mountains of the Pyrenees. There is much to praise Kötting for – his passion for the subject matter shines through whilst never falling into the sentimental. The use of bricolage (a corruption of the French which roughly translates to do it yourself) is magnificent, as the utilisation of pre-existent footage could easily have become a cluttered and confused cinematic nightmare, yet in Kötting’s hands it becomes something quite exceptional. Battersea-based musician Scanner provides the soundtrack to the film. Like Kötting, Scanner is an experimental artist; he uses sound bites (more regularly from phone scanners and police scanners but not in this case) to construct tracks. There could not be a more suitable match to the film, which is awash with his signature fragmentary clips of sound that become an intelligent and well-crafted soundtrack. This Our Still Life is a fine example of the potential power of cinema to make us think, and by running with this central concept, Kötting has achieved something very special.