Mark Cousins Wins the Crystal Globe

Mark Cousins’s A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things (2024)

The outbreak of the Second World War prompted painter Ben Nicholson and his wife, sculptor Barbara Hepworth, to leave London for St Ives, a seaside town near the southwestern tip of England. By the 1950s, several younger modern and abstract artists had joined them, and collectively, they became known to critics and art historians as the St Ives School.

In his new documentary, A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things, Mark Cousins suggests that one of those artists, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, has been too often overlooked. “She didn’t change the world,” he said as he accepted Karlovy Vary’s top prize, the Crystal Globe, on Saturday. “But she lived completely, fully, and utterly. Let’s try to do that.”

Cousins, who emerged in the late 1990s as the host of the BBC film program Moviedrome, has become known for turning his many, many nonfiction projects—his best-known is the fifteen-episode series, The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)—into personal journeys. He usually narrates, up close and intimate with his distinctive Northern Irish lilt, and he often collaborates with Tilda Swinton, who in A Sudden Glimpse, reads from Barns-Graham’s diary entries and letters. “I messaged her a while ago, saying I was making this film,” he tells Marta Bałaga in Variety. “She said: ‘I’m on fire for Willie.’”

Born into an exceedingly wealthy family dominated by an overbearing patriarch—he brought a whip to the dinner table—Barns-Graham studied in Edinburgh and traveled throughout Europe before setting up her first studio in St Ives. In 1949, she climbed the Grindelwald glacier in Switzerland, and as Cousins tells it, this was the crucial turning point in her life and work.

“The creak of the glacier’s ice is part of the beautifully evocative sound design,” writes Carmen Gray at Film Verdict. “Few women at the time ventured up this extreme terrain. It changed Barns-Graham’s inner world, becoming the focus of her subsequent paintings, a number of which Cousins considers in lively stretches of poetic analysis.” Writing for Screen, Wendy Ide finds that “Cousins’s passion for his subject is infectious—he even gets a Wilhelmina Barns-Graham tattoo at one point—and it’s impossible not to admire his determination to avoid art world documentary clichés.”

Cousins tells Bałaga that his next project will be The Story of Documentary Film. “When I made The Story of Film: An Odyssey, many journalists said: ‘It’s so subjective,’” he says. “I will tell you what’s really subjective: writing about cinema and leaving out most women or not mentioning African films. There is a rigor in what I do that’s sometimes not seen.” The jurors in Karlovy Vary—producer Christine Vachon, director Gábor Reisz, poet and screenwriter Sjón, and actors Eliška Křenková and Geoffrey Rush—saw it.

More Awards

With her debut feature, Loveable, Lilja Ingolfsdottir won the Special Jury Prize, the FIPRESCI Prize, the Europa Cinemas Label, the Grand Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, and the Best Actress Award for Helga Guren. Guren plays a divorced working mother who has remarried and is struggling to cope.

“What initially appears to be a fraught domestic two-hander becomes a more intensive solo character study, as Maria is forced into a painful process of self-examination when her second husband Sigmund (Oddgeir Thune) retreats from her,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety.Loveable takes a continually surprising approach to characterization, risking easy audience sympathy for the sake of human truth,” and while “the script sometimes veers into heavily underlined therapy-speak, Guren’s emotionally intrepid lead performance keeps things credible and compelling.”

Nelicia Low won the Best Director Award for her debut feature, Pierce, the story of two brothers reuniting after years spent apart. Young Zijie (Liu Hsiu-fu) looks up to Zihan (Tsao Yu-Ning), who may be harboring sociopathic tendencies. For John Berra at Screen, “what gives Pierce an unnerving frisson is the brothers’ mutual enthusiasm for fencing, which results in some literally pointed encounters. With its intricate clashing of sabers and emphasis on rigorous strategy, this lightning-fast sport proves to be an incisive metaphor for how they come to anticipate one another’s moves, even when their entanglement goes beyond the mat.”

The Best Actor award went to both Ton Kas and Guido Pollemans, who play, respectively, a man in his sixties briefly returning to Rotterdam from his second home in Portugal and his middle-aged son, who yearns to make the most of his father’s visit, in Peter Hoogendoorn’s Three Days of Fish. Kas and Pollemans “land the subtle, purposefully awkward grace notes that compose their characters’ hushed relationship,” writes Robert Daniels at

The jury found that Adam Martinec’s Our Lovely Pig Slaughter and Noaz Deshe’s Xoftex both warranted special mentions. Pig Slaughter “fields insights into fraught family dynamics that will be familiar to anyone who heads home on the holidays and finds such multi-generational gatherings, affectionate though they may be, rife with resentments and recriminations,” writes Jessica Kiang for Variety, where Guy Lodge finds that “Deshe’s film strikingly captures a sense of passing time and personal stasis battling each other to a fraught draw, building to a freeform surrealism that gives Xoftex its own identity amid the recent wave of cinema centered on the migrant crisis.”

Proxima Competition

Karlovy Vary’s Proxima Competition, now in its third year, presents “works full of creative vigor and progressive cinematic expression,” and the Grand Prix went to Zhengfan Yang’s Stranger, a collection of short stories set in hotel rooms. “The rules of the game are simple,” writes Marko Stojiljković at Cineuropa: “Seven vignettes, each shot in a single, long take. Some of them are funny, others poignant, some emotionally charged, some mysterious, and others purely meditative.” Paolo Tizón won the Proxima Special Jury Prize for Night Has Come, a documentary focusing on new recruits aiming to join an elite unit of the Peruvian Armed Forces.

The Proxima jury—Bianca Balbuena, Wouter Jansen, Adéla Komrzý, Mohamed Kordofani, and Daniela Michel—gave a special mention to Martin Pavol Repka for March to May. “Set in a rustic village house in a sleepy Slovak hamlet,” writes Martin Kudláč at Cineuropa, the film “portrays a family of five as they navigate the complexities of growing up and growing old, with the rhythms of everyday life humming steadily along. This serene cadence is abruptly disrupted by some unexpected news: Romana (Zuzana Fialová), a mother in her late forties, is pregnant. Repka delicately captures the group’s adaptation to this unanticipated change, presenting an intimate family portrait.”

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