British cinephile par excellence, Mark Cousins, returns with another of his ambitious and high-minded cine-essays (although this is technically fictional) centred on a specific geographical location. The resultant difficulties Stockholm, My Love has are not to do with the merit of the film essay form per se, but more that Cousins never really justifies his specific, abstract take on his subject matter across a feature-length format. The main issue in particular is that, even for an intentionally detached narrator, the inner life of Neneh Cherry’s protagonist feels flimsy – particularly when the reason for her core trauma (an accident a year previous) is revealed.
Another problem is that Cousins as a director almost appears too beholden to his own immense cinephilia. His keen sensibility has evidently absorbed so much cinema that his turn behind the camera all feels a little received. His work is like a watered-down approximation of many of the filmmakers and documentarians he rightly admires: flashes of Godard, Marker, Varda and Malick echo quite frequently here.
Even Stockholm – arguably the film’s key player, along with Cherry – does not transmit wholly. The film feels more like a depiction of any anonymous, cold and alienating “northern” city. Cousins’ previous city essays, Here Be Dragons (2013) and I Am Belfast (2015), seemed to work better because in the case of Here Be Dragons, he placed himself, as documentarian, in the centre of the story – making comprehensible his discourse on Europe’s oft-forgotten country, Albania. I Am Belfast likewise benefitted from Cousins’ clear personal investment in the subject matter – namely his home city.
Any Mark Cousins film is worth a watch, simply because his film writing and cinephilia commands respect, and he does attempt to be genuinely experimental. Those seeking an introduction to his work, however, would be best advised to bypass Stockholm, My Love for Here Be Dragons or the fantastic Atomic (2015).
CAST: Neneh Cherry
DIRECTOR: Mark Cousins
WRITERS: Mark Cousins, Anita Oxburgh
SYNOPSIS: An unnamed woman (Neneh Cherry) traipses around Stockholm, ruminating about architecture, her father, and a past trauma.