'6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia': Sundance Review

6 Desires
Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
An esoteric essay-film for already converted Cousins fans

Mark Cousins retraces a path D.H. Lawrence trod in 1921

Film journalist and cine-essayist Mark Cousins has won praise in the past with work whose scope was staggering (the 15-hour The Story of Film: An Odyssey) or whose focus guaranteed broad appeal (A Story of Children and Film). (One presumes that A Story of Funny Cats and Film is on tap.) Neither attraction applies in 6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia, whose focus is frustratingly narrow even for fans of Lawrence's work. Those who've developed a taste for Cousins's highly personal, exceedingly low-tech approach may welcome it, but the film will be a specialty item even on the fest circuit.

Asked to interpret the author's Sea and Sardinia, Cousins sets out as if he were writing Lawrence a letter. "Can I call you Bert?," he asks in that informal way of his, before proceeding to call the unresponsive David Herbert Lawrence "Bert" for the rest of the film.

Using what appears to be the camera on a smartphone, Cousins shoots his Sardinian tour from the deck of a ship, the dashboard of his car and while walking down streets. Often, he holds photos of Lawrence and others in front of him, filling almost all the frame while posing some question to his long-dead interlocutor.

What does it mean to revisit the places that inspired a work of literature when those places have changed so much? Yes, Cousins experiences the chilly fog of pre-dawn Mandas; he sees the same range of peaks Lawrence described as topped with serpents. But the towns he visits aren't the link to the pre-modern world they once were, and telephone lines bisect views that once represented pristine nature.

Cousins is intelligent and critical in his references to his source material, taking Lawrence to task when he thinks he deserves it. Jarvis Cocker provides Lawrence's voice in ample excerpts from the text. But the film's "six desires" conceit is unpersuasive, and tenuously related to the sights we see.

Occasionally Cousins photographs something worth our curiosity: Rituals in Mamoiada, for instance, where masked men dress in sheep skins and carry dozens of bells on their backs; or the ethereal stone sculptures made by Pinuccio Sciola, which emit shimmering tones when he rubs his hands across them. These are intriguing enough one wishes for a tour guide with a decent camera, who wouldn't keep spoiling things by sticking photocopied portraits between that camera and the view.


Production companies: Hi Brow, Third Films

Director-Screenwriter-Director of photography: Mark Cousins

Producers: Samm Haillay, Laura Marcellino, Don Boyd, Duane Hopkins

Editor: Timo Langer

Music: Aaron Kelly

No rating, 84 minutes