As He Lay Falling (2014)

First published by EyeforFilm

“I decide here – who comes and who goes. This is my croft. William can’t stand it, he’s an incomer.”

Bronte (Simone Lahbib) is speaking to Georgios (Christopher Greco), a Greek immigrant who, in his desperate search for work, has left behind his wife and son and finished up at the other end of Europe, in the Scottish Highlands. There, he works with Bronte’s bullying husband William (Bill Fellows), digging up peat in return for board and a bed (in a shed). English Williams resents Georgios’ unpaid presence, treating him like an animal (even calling him, twice, a ‘dog’) – and if Bronte’s words come with a decidedly sexual resonance, she treats Georgios like little more than a prostitute, enjoying his furtive congress before leaving him a discretionary amount of cash on the table. In this intense, awkward triangle, with different ethnicities, sexes and classes rubbing up against one another, something has to give.

Ian Waugh’s As He Lay Falling is a study of isolation, estrangement and identity in Europe’s ever-shifting community. In one scene, the fugitive Georgios is shown looking out to sea and to the rocky islands beyond – a modern-day Odysseus, far from family and home. Though obviously the outsider, in a sense Georgios belongs more than William ever will. Yet as Georgios strikes out for a sort of autonomy, he is really just moving on to the next stop, and is likely to continue being bogged down (the film’s opening image shows him digging in a bog) and exploited.

It is tempting to say that this film, in a period when Greece is in an economic hole and the UK has never been more distant from the Continent, could not be more timely – but in fact this short film’s theme – of the errant quest for dignity and labour – represents a timeless European tale. It is a beautifully shot one too, as DP Julian Schwanitz, alternating cozy close-ups and distancing wide shots, captures the contradictions between intimate humanity and alienating topography in which Georgios has lost himself.

© Anton Bitel