The Whalebone Box


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Whalebone Box
"Even when Kötting is at his most mannered there's still something magnetic about his work." | Photo: Andrew Kotting

You don't so much watch Andrew Kötting's The Whalebone Box as be confronted by it. Which is to say, the experimental filmmaker - whose last film was the Beckettian Lek And The Dogs - is not known for taking prisoners at the best of times and raises the stakes considerably here.

At the heart of the film is the box of the title, mostly it's whalebone, but sometimes, when it is referred to as a thing from the dreams of Kötting's daughter Eden, it is cardboard and, occasionally, it seems to be pulsing, straining at the ties that bind it. Eden, who has the genetic disorder Joubert syndrome, which means her brain function is impaired, including her speech, is key to the film - playing a role and offering narration. This gives the action a very personal undercurrent as Kötting attempts to delve into his daughter's thoughts as he might open a box to scrutinise the inscrutable - watching her via a sleep diary or asking her what she sees through binoculars in various surreal circumstances.

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The filmmaker is taking the box on a sort of reverse pilgrimage to the Isle of Harris where it was crafted from a whale that died after beaching. What he wants us take away from the rest of the film is very open to interpretation. Certainly, he plays up the way that objects can take on a mythic quality in our minds. Parallels are drawn between this whalebone artefact and everything from a plane's black box to Schrödinger's Cat and Pandora's trove of secrets. Some of this is an onslaught,  not least musician MacGillivray's "mermaid's song" - a strident affair that nonetheless has a primal quality in the way it recalls whale song.

Kötting travels with poet Iain Sinclair and pinhole camera photographer Anonymous Bosch who were also along for the ride in Swandown - with additional voices layering in, offering their own interpretations of what they see. It's a long haul, and not everyone is likely to go the full distance, but even when Kötting is at his most mannered there's still something magnetic about his work.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2020
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The pilgrimage of a box.
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Director: Andrew Kötting

Writer: Andrew Kötting

Starring: Andrew Kötting, Eden Kötting, MacGillivray, Iain Sinclair, Anonymous Bosch

Year: 2020

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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