Song of Songs Review
Accompanying Song of Songs on its British DVD release is an early short from director Josh Appiganesi. Entitled Ex Memoria, this 16-minute effort set in an old folks’ home works well as an intimate character piece and demonstrates a remarkable sense of calm – and closeness – for such a new director. It’s a quality which Song of Songs retains (alongside an appearance from up-and-coming actress Nathalie Press) though its environment is very different. Concerned with family and religion, Appiganesi’s feature debut takes place within London’s Jewish community and one home in particular. A dying mother causes a double homecoming: for her daughter (Press) from a seminary in Jerusalem; and for her son (Josh Chalfen), who has turned his back on the religion and this secular world.
Micro-budgeted, Song of Songs is almost a two-hander, its principal concern being the personal and theological clashes which occur between brother and sister: her devotion versus his disavowal; her submission versus his transgression. Furthermore, Appiganesi posits these tensions of being indicative of a bigger picture, especially as religion is once again beginning to factor largely in our lives. It’s difficult, to use a more obvious example, to see the early shot of an aeroplane as being anything other than a nod towards 9/11, yet our hand is never forced. As noted Appiganesi is a calm director – he’s willing to wait for an idea to emerge or to respect an audience’s intelligence.
And yet Song of Songs is also an economical work. We never once leave our lead characters’ sides, being either attached to the back of their shoulders à la the Dardenne brothers’ method or staring clean into their faces courtesy of large, looming close-ups. Appiganesi is able to tell his whole story through their faces and reactions, especially as their activities become more dramatic and perverse as the narrative progresses. Soon their relationship begins to ape that seen in Cocteau’s Les Enfants terribles: child-like games with intense adult themes which threaten to break out into pure melodrama or worse. That the film ends in violence is perhaps inevitable, though this remains a low-key, intelligent work throughout. Indeed, its very muted nature may prove make-or-break to many; Song of Songs is either likely to register a huge reaction or simply pass you by, it can be that quiet.
At only 80-minutes in length, Song of Songs appears in this instance as a single-layered disc, though one that copes well with the film’s presentation. The image is grainy throughout, and as such prompts noticeable artefacting, yet it seems wholly in keeping (ie, utterly intentional) with the piece as a whole: quiet, unassuming, no gloss whatsoever. Indeed, the muted nature of the photography is represented well, whilst the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is similarly intact. All told, just as we’d expect and hope for. As for the soundtrack, here we find only DD2.0 soundtrack, though it copes well with the dialogue and offers few problems. Again, any flaws would appear to be inherent in the production as opposed to the disc’s mastering.
Elsewhere the disc also offers up a commentary from Appiganesi and his two leads plus the aforementioned short as well as a number of cross-promotional trailers for other Soda releases. As noted, Ex Memoria is a fine piece of work and more than deserving of its inclusion. The commentary, meanwhile, is similarly welcome, though it should be noted that Press and Chalfen take a back seat to their director. Ably discussing the various themes his film raises, as well as offering a number of on-set anecdotes (he’s at pains, at one point, to note that they had great fun making Song of Songs despite the dourness), Appiganesi makes for a worthy listen offering such a wealth of detail or ideas that you’ll likely to be tempted by an almost-immediate re-viewing of the main event.