Scott Barley, the last link in a short chain of true cinematographic artists that include Jean Epstein, Robert Bresson, Béla Tarr and Philippe Grandrieux brings [to the Centre of Contemporary Culture Barcelona] the recent remastering of two of his most powerful works: Hunter and Womb.
What to say that I haven't already said about the cinema of this man-all-alone, who travels alone to the mountains at night to film wonderful places of sleep and death with his iPhone? The fact of being able to revisit two of the most visionary and stimulating films of the decade, two films that delve the most into the cosmological and the eternal, making you lose yourself in their form and their darkness is something that transcends the corporal, that dive in the territory of the soul and into the abyss of the unfathomable. The auditorium hall vibrated to Hunter's piercing and mystical melodies, while in his image, flashes of light were seen in black, deep black water. The quiet hills and the stars that appeared and disappeared in the lullaby of the river recreated the echo of times that are now silent. The spirit emanating from an invisible current, which connects with the sky and in turn descends between the margins of a screen-window, could evoke the true “Mystery” [...] All that and more, much more, under the watchful eye of the dark and the slightest incursion of a human hand trying to reach something unreachable.
[...] The journey of discovery, the continual urge to ask questions rather than answer them. The void that is filled with something invisible but beautiful. The immobile bodies of Womb, the spatial matrix, the hole that opens between the stars and forces you to look inside. There was a passion and a truth in Barley's images that afternoon, like a halo that escaped from banal interpretation and configured itself as heir to the “Form”.
"During the day we investigate, but at night we believe," said Henry James Slack, and I repeat again: Scott Barley does not make movies from light, but in spite of it.
– Borja Castillejo Calvo – Cinesinfin on Hunter and Womb at the Centre of Contemporary Culture Barcelona | Obscuritads, Xcéntric Cinema, CCCB
Redolent of the films of Sokurov and Tarkovsky, Scott Barley's feature debut invites us to contemplate landscape, shape, texture and light, but often in absentia. It is a nocturne of long, static takes, wordless, yet vivid, even ecstatic in moments of searing, revelatory and indelidble beauty. All the more remarkable, it was largely shot on on an iPhone. An extraordinary work.
– Tom Charity on Sleep Has Her House | Canadian premiere
Hinterlands marks a point of deviation, compressing tendencies seen in all that came before it into a single pressurised short that explodes with an intensity that foreshadows the feature [Sleep Has Her House] that would follow.
Shot from a moving vehicle looking up, fixed in perspective but featuring continual motion, the film features a rolling red shepherd’s sunset caught between two lines of trees, black shadows that punctuate the crimson streaks of cloud. Before long, the sequence begins to fracture, a shuddering baseline accompanying the juddering frame, before erupting entirely into frenzy. The image strobes whilst the camera spirals, red lines blurring into haptic disarray.
“I try to convey feelings… especially ones that I cannot rationalise, or understand,” Barley says, “and I try to translate that into cinema,” something that this film speaks to. Subjugated no more, with Hinterlands, that which had been felt quietly is now unleashed with a roar.
– BFI Sight & Sound – Matt Turner
Like Warhol’s earliest films on sleep, sex and eating, and the fluxus experiments before them, Sleep Has Her House uses a composite of new and old technologies to recalibrate the audience to a slower, more primeval clock of waking and sleeping life.
– Frieze (Issue 193, March 2018) – Erik Morse
Barley, an installation artist and filmmaker from Wales, has more in common with the long-dead Caspar David Friedrich, a 19th-century Romantic landscape painter, than any contemporary avant-gardist.
Sleep Has Her House is a 90-minute landscape film of minor movements and subtle changes; it’s at times so still, so tranquil the screen begins to resemble a projected painting. Then a stream will flow, a gust of wind will blow across the trees. But Sleep’s mostly unoccupied vistas—no humans, a few scattered animals—are entirely staggering in their audio-visual scope, not unified or mappable to the viewer, but always greater than we can see, more terrifying than what we can hear. Friedrich would often place meagre humans or their ruins in the foreground of a far greater natural backdrop. That is not necessary here; this is a film that by sheer aesthetic magnitudes dwarfs its spectator in every possible way.
Barley’s method is closer to Sokurov’s than Tarkovsky’s; he is not merely adopting the philosophy of a mode of painting, but distilling its form through the centrifuge of another medium.
Sleep Has Her House is a strange, contradictory amalgam; Barley is finding the terrible sublime not through a life-altering encounter with a thunderstorm or even an imagination of it through oil on canvas, but through grand footage shot on nothing less than an iPhone. With no words and no characters, Sleep Has Her House seeps down into the deepest crevices of our collective soul, engaging a fear spiritual in its disposition. This is a visual and aural language of the apocalypse, a crisis of faith in its purest, most elemental form.
– The Georgia Straight – Josh Cabrita
Unlike a filmmaker like James Benning—to whom Barley has been compared—this filmmaking doesn’t so much seem to be calling for a return to the basic properties of nature to form a resistance against modernity in cinema practices as to suggest how painterly abstractions can be created through the simplest of means. Barley crafts images that are extremely sensual in their materialism but minimal in every other sense. Although each works in isolation, when placed in succession they take on an intense emotional weight, layer upon layer of painterly compositions in a rich tapestry of gentle motion.
If Sleep Has Her House at first calls to mind the expressionist landscapes of Peter Hutton, Victor Sjöström and, yes, [Jean-Marie] Straub, the formal apocalypse of its final act recalls the smeary digital cacophony of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's Leviathan, and Sleep Has Her House similarly foregrounds the forceful capacities of DV cameras. By removing his filmmaking from any traditional sense of narrative, character, and, even temporal/spatial unity, Barley invites us to see the world—and the cinematic image—anew.
– MUBI Notebook – James Slaymaker
It certainly does not feel an exaggeration to say that Barley merits being considered one of the best artists working in Britain today.
– Moving Image Artists (MIA) – Giuliano Vivaldi
Scott Barley's Sleep Has Her House was the single most momentous hour and a half in the dark for me this year, a tenebrous landscape film shapeshifting between reality and nightmare, cinema and dream.
– BFI Sight & Sound | Best films 2017 poll – Tom Charity
The last twenty minutes of the film depict the apocalypse, the end of the world and of images [...] In Sleep Has Her House, death – the end of the world – emerges as the transgression of a limit, an experience that is both ecstatic and intolerable, to the point that even the images can not record it (the screen is black).Paraphrasing [Georges] Bataille’s Eroticism, Sleep Has Her House, a beautiful debut, is a film that ‘affirms life even in death.’
– Lo Specchio Scuro – Lorenzo Baldassari
Barley's internalization of the universe is unwavering. With amazing sound design, Womb is another hypnotic concoction and nice addition to the prolific young artist's growing filmography. There is always something more primordial about Barley's work. His images are devoid of symbols or layered contexts but completely bare and visceral.
– Floating World – Dustin Chang
Plunging us as deep as possible into the darkness both frightening and intimate, [Sleep Has Her House] provides one of the most unique watching experiences in years.
If Béla Tarr (of some parallel universe) had been asked to create an hour and a half intermission for the National Geographic after-midnight broadcast, the resulting opus would have certainly felt close to Barley's cinematic phantasm.
– NG boo Art – Nikola Gocić
To simply call it a movie feels inherently wrong. Sleep Has Her House is more akin to a transcendental experience; you are absorbed into a void where only light and darkness become the defining traits of existence.
– FilmBizarro | Best Films of 2017
Barley's images cry “behold!” across valleys and mist-doused horizons, rendering timid pastoral British scenes into epic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. This is a document of uncanny stillness, of being isolated simultaneously in awe and daunted by the magnitude of the elements.
– BFI Sight & Sound | Best films 2017 poll
Luke Moody on Sleep Has Her House
L’Avventura for the Starless...
– Phil Solomon on Nightwalk
It is impossible not to appreciate [Barley’s] aesthetic sensibility in Sleep Has Her House. He gives us everything he has in this work [...] like that of Tarr, Sokurov or Tarkovsky, [it] is made in a way that requires the viewer's involvement in an absolute way.
– Borja Castillejo Calvo – Cinesinfin
Barley’s film is certainly the strongest film I have seen in years. There have been many films which touched me, but not in the same way. Sleep Has Her House stands out. This is as far as my words can take it. All I can do now is strongly recommend the film. Words cannot adequately translate experience. You naturally lose most of that experience because you try to find words for something that has no words.
– Nadin Mai – The Art(s) of Slow Cinema
A spectral landscape where human traces have completely disappeared. Only animals under the cover of darkness quietly await the arrival of a mystic spirit diffusing over the forest basins. This feature-length cinematic nocturne is a nightmare, a romantic excursion into unbridled wilderness, and an apocalyptic vision in one. Employing slowly passing images of dusky and seemingly deserted landscapes, Barley envelops nature in a cloak of impenetrable mystery, transcendental repose, and chilling expectation.
Painting with an iPhone! I had the most amazing aesthetic experience for a long time.
90 minutes with landscapes, rivers, valleys, woods, sunset, barely visible graphic prints on the film screen, from pleasure to nightmare, no dialogue, cinéma pur, a rollercoaster of impressions and associations, remembering our Danish master, Per Kirkeby [when] seeing some of the colourful images, [... or] thinking of Casper David Friedrich of course but also of Muybridge and his horses, or maybe better of the white horse in Pirjo Honkasalo’s Three Rooms of Melancholia.
It’s Götterdämmerung without Wagner but with lightning and thunder at a sound level that made me want to hold my ears and close my eyes to avoid the epileptic seizures that I could have inherited from my father.
I can’t remember being so much physically attacked by the film medium. I read that [Scott Barley] was born in 1992, this Anselm Kiefer of cinema... gosh, I was suffering with this nightmarish pleasure!
– Filmkommentar – Tue Steen Müller on Sleep Has Her House | Magnificent7 Festival, Serbia
The are moments within Sleep Has Her House of such exquisite and subtle rendering of “moving light in place” that I have always dreamed of experiencing in the cinema. A black forest film to be entered into only with great care and caution. Scott Barley has dared us to imagine a cinema of such fragile – and terrifying – beauty (reclaiming once again that real definition of “awesome”, the sublime) that places the both the film and the viewer on equal footing of corporal existence by the closing credits.
– Phil Solomon
A fittingly dark film, elementally black almost, both in terms of the images – many of which are filmed at the greatest depths of night or in such thick fog as to be almost indeterminable – and in the mood, one of mounting, crushing despair, or rather, fear in the face of enormity. Shot over four days across remote Wales and Scotland, with a post-production period lasting much longer, similar to the films that came before it but more impressive in almost every way. Here Barley showcases a sense of control that had eluded him before, creating consistently arresting images, commanding the pacing and building an atmosphere that shifts gradually but noticeably, from serenity towards chaos. The duration is essential too; it takes time for these sequences to have their effect, and really for the first time, they are afforded it.
Barley was originally a fine artist, and his filmmaking practice remains informed by his painting, recording individual images then layering them over each other into stacked plains, a “method that brings back a sense of texture and tactility that I loved from painting in a sculptural way, where I was painting with my hands with large amounts of oils, ash, spider’s silk, stone, tree bark etc.”
This technique produces a dimensionality in the image, and also a plasticity, the effect of which is often astounding, the real made ethereal through mounting and manipulation, hundreds of representational images layered to make something much more uncanny. Hard, fixed single images become soft and malleable through duplication. An early extended sequence focuses on a enormous waterfall, the blending of the veneered images creating a blurred effect like that produced by slow shutter speed photography, but in motion. The sequence transitions seamlessly between shots recorded at different distances, the cuts made invisible through layering, creating a long take that moves magically between perspectives.
The film concludes with violence, a great storm made from a collage of deafening sonic constructions and increasingly indeterminable, obfuscated images (most striking: closeups of a horse’s eye, whitened and fearful) giving way to total apocalypse. The film’s final cataclysmic stroboscopic image seems to directly reference the filmmaker’s earlier experiments with total abstraction, where chaos was welcomed. A reset button smashed at the first sight of familiarity or comfort.
From here, it is hard to think where the filmmaker – already well underway in the production of another feature film – can move forwards. “I think we have not even come to close to understanding and manifesting the potential of what image in tandem with sound can create as an experience. I want to keep driving for that, and see how far we can go,” he says. Sleep Has Her House shows a filmmaker who is both iterating and innovating, starting from what is familiar and creating anew. His storm snarls and screams, bludgeons and batters, and ultimately wipes clean. In the wake of disaster, the filmmaker can pick up the pieces and start a new film, begin to build a new house.
– BFI Sight & Sound – Matt Turner on Sleep Has Her House | Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018