Terror and beauty come together in intimate Nick Cave documentary

Teodosia Dobriyanova on Jean-François Richet’s ‘Blood Father’ (2016)

The other night, as I was falling asleep next to my loved one, I noticed something I had somehow never realised before – his heartbeat was much faster than mine. I told him about my little discovery.

– “I know,” he said. At first I thought he had noticed the difference before me.

– “I actually think I have a problem.”

The word ‘problem’ came out of his throat, but got stuck in mine and wouldn’t let go.

– “It’s not abnormal,” He continued, probably realising that I had overreacted a bit.

– “Some people are just like that.”

– “So do you think those people die faster?” I asked.

– “Probably.”

I couldn’t fall asleep for a while after. The thought that the people you love the most are constructed by small particles, by arteries and chemicals that can go wrong at any moment, would not let me rest. Realising that the life of this amazing “three-dimensional being” (as Nick Cave would say) lying down next to you depends on a simple organ which can stop working at any moment, for any reason, is not the easiest task. Humans are so fragile. And there is nothing we can do about it.

This mood was haunting me before I entered the theatre to see One More Time with Feeling, a film which turned out to be about something quite similar. It was, first of all, a documentary about Nick Cave, one more after 20,000 Days on Earth (2014), which captured Nick Cave as a great musician, less a person and more of an unreachable icon. The first line we ever hear in the official trailer of 20,000 Days on Earth is Cave’s own voice-over, saying “at the end of the 20th century, I ceased to be a human being”. In One More Time With Feeling the icon is humanised through what existentialism argues defines us all—the suffering coming from the realisation that the human condition has not skipped you either. So, this time, all there is, is the feeling.

While the theatre seats are filled with people coming to see a film about Nick Cave, they leave the room with much more than insight into the life of a celebrity. One More Time With Feeling is personal and so intimate that it becomes what all films should be – empathy-triggering entities that share their moods with the spectator and thus turn them into an active participant.

At the same time, as every bold documentary, the film raises an ethical question: are we supposed to be watching this? An experience as intimate, personal and sacred to a family, that makes us feel like intruders at the beginning, but then immerses us so much into the tragedy that we begin to feel it almost like our own; yet, we still know that it isn’t and that we should treat this fact with respect.

Nevertheless, what makes the film so powerful are the visual aesthetics that follow and communicate with the tragedy. One of the most touching moments was the scene in Cave’s house where his wife Susie shows us a painting she recently found and which their son Arthur painted when he was around five years-old. On the canvas, Susie tells us, Arthur painted the same place where he would find his death a decade later. “And I kept wondering why it is framed in black. Why black?” The scene resembles a poetic metaphor, with its visual composition, mysticism and symbolism of the painting expressing the familial grief and shock upon discovering the object. It is simply devastating, its visuals the only consolation that got me through this scene.

In the film, Cave is asked why his songs don’t follow a narrative line anymore, to which he replies: “I guess my songs don’t have storylines anymore, because I feel like life is not a story, either.” And it looks like the film has taken this moment as a pivot point and has too decided to give up on linearity and narrative.

The beginning offers a fresh breath of air before immersing us into the tragic experience; One More Time With Feeling begins with a meta-textual joke about the film crew trying to figure out how “this 3D black and white camera works”. At the beginning, we watch the film, but also the process of its making, the out-of-focus takes, and Cave’s vexation while the crew is trying to set-up the camera. (Or the moment when Cave tells Susie to take off her fur coat because ‘the animal rights activists will be pissed’.) These are things which will usually be thrown away in post-production, but instead, Andrew Dominik, the director of the film and an old friend of Cave’s, decided to leave it and create a film within the film.

One More Time With Feeling is a film of terror and beauty, the proof of Cave’s confession, “There is more paradise in hell than we’ve been told;” a beauty which comes out of suffering and which we’re not always capable of seeing. The film’s commercial purpose is to introduce the Nick Cave’s new album Skeleton Tree, but I allow myself to make a conceptual comparison with another music album which came out back in 2014 and which, although in a completely different genre, shares the concept of the film so intricately that it feels almost prophetic. La Dispute’s Rooms of the House is an album about the aftermath of a loss and the process of re-learning to live in the house you shared a life with somebody who is not there anymore. If there was a film to this album, I imagine it to be pretty much like One More Time With Feeling, in both cases with somebody still remaining there, moving furniture around.

Teodosia Dobriyanova

By Teodosia Dobriyanova

Teodosia Dobriyanova is a writer, programmer, and documentary filmmaker based in London. She graduated in Film Studies (BA) from King’s College London (BA) and Ethnographic and Documentary Film (MA) from University College London. She has written for Dirty Movies, Filmotomy, and New East Cinema.