CHASING THE SUBLIME AND EDMUND BURKE WITH DIRECTOR ILLUM JACOBI
by LAURA JARAMILLO in Cultured Magazine
In a world where we are so dependent on technology for achieving our most basic life functions, how do we solve a problem like the sublime? For 18th-century Anglo-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke the sublime was the fear-tinged awe that nature inspires in the beholder and that the best art can also trigger. A somewhat sheltered 19-year-old in a pre-industrial world, Burke wrote a treatise that set out to establish the difference between the sublime and the merely beautiful. A new feature film, The Trouble with Nature, by Danish director Illum Jacobi, imagines Burke at the end of his career, a statesman, washed-up, traveling into the Alpine wilderness to annotate his youthful treatise. I recently spoke on the phone with Jacobi and Antony Langdon, the British actor and musician who plays Burke with supercilious comedic flare. We discussed the director and his protagonist’s skepticism about the sublime, the film’s ruminations on modernity and what it was like shooting on location in the Alps at a 12,000-foot altitude.
The Trouble with Nature finds Burke wandering in a slightly askew powdered wig and a too-thin frock coat through the fields of Provence, up snow-capped mountains and across dripping glaciers, all shot in lush high-definition by Frederik Jacobi, the director’s brother. He grasps for control amid his new, overpowering mountain surroundings, accompanied on the journey by his Indigenous American servant, Awak, played with quiet luminosity by Mexican actress Nathalia Acevedo. Shot in Chamonix, France, where Jacobi first began mountaineering in his youth, the film combines the visual codes of a nature documentary with the wryness of a comedy of ideas.
Jacobi asserts that during the film’s production, “The lines between documentary and fiction are somehow blurred because we took the same journey as the characters. We were out there shooting in snowstorms. We were so affected by the shoot itself.” This all-encompassing experiential approach led Jacobi and Langdon to cast local non-actors who they met during production. In one scene, for example, the character of a crystal hunter, who appears spookily in a cave, is played by a seventh-generation crystal hunter, whose family is known in the region for their ability to harvest rare specimens. Langdon describes the collaborative intimacy between the cast and crew: “It was just these spirits [going] along in the mountains.”
In The Trouble with Nature, the contrast between Burke’s uneasy coexistence with the landscape and Awak’s ability to endure are at the heart of the film’s critique. Langdon describes the philosopher’s self-absorption as a reflection for our disconnection from the natural world. “In modernity,” he says, “we still think we rule the joint and we’re ruining it. But nature doesn’t care… Nature is much more grand than any machinations of humanity.”
Jacobi worries that in making a film about the sublime, he is projecting a fantasy about nature onto a landscape that we cannot fully understand based on a beautiful image of it. Indeed, the concept of the sublime emerged at the very moment when humans became estranged from nature. As a result, Romantic art made nature into a beautiful image, an object to be depicted and bought and sold. Under the weight of this history, Jacobi’s anxiety about the sublime becomes all the more poignant for our times. Ecological collapse looms and we find ourselves out of joint with the earth and its rhythms, unable to act in the face of crisis. But The Trouble with Nature also operates on a smaller scale. The film suggests that our environmental predicament has caused a fraying of the bonds between the self and lived experience. Jacobi reflects, “When you go to the Alps today, you see how people confront the landscape. Most people turn their back to the landscape and photograph themselves in front of it.”
LIFF: ‘The Trouble with Nature’ is Clever and Humorous
by Katie Garwood in The Slice
The Trouble with Nature is a hilarious, unique, and witty debut film from Danish directorIllum Jacobi. This periodic drama follows Eighteenth Century philosopher and scholar Edmund Burke on an imagined voyage through the French Alps in search of evidence for the concept he invited and published in his 1757 book A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Burke was a Whig politician, an educated white man who invented the concept of the sublime, which refers to something that possess such greatness that it exceeds human rationale or limitation, whether it be incredibly beautiful, unbelievably powerful, or extraordinarily spiritual. It is often used to refer to the awe-inspiring greatness of nature and had a monumental impact on the Romantic movement that followed several years later.
The comedy in The Trouble with Nature comes from the fact that Burke does not understand this concept himself, as a pompous city man of high status, he is so fixated on his own ego that he cannot see or appreciate the beautiful landscapes that are right in front of him, “I haven’t been very impressed with these landscapes”. Jacobi draws upon the fact that in real life, Edmund Burke had written his entire thesis without ever having left the city. When fictional Burke finally experiences deep forests, vast plains and soaring mountains, he finds it “absolutely rubbish” and declares “I’m so over all this, nature”.
Antony Langdon does a fantastic job of using visual comedy to present Burke in such a hilariously unflattering way. He is constantly complaining about everything he comes across, from the “bloody trees everywhere” to the “useless” fields. Dressed head to toe in his preposterous velvet suit, high white stockings, traditional heels and Periwig, he couldn’t look any more out of place in the wilderness.
Jacobi’s choice to includeNathalia Acevedo’s character, the indigenous maid Awak, is a clever way to further demonstrate how shut off from his own philosophies Burke really is. Awak has a true connection with the elements, whilst she showers in waterfalls and attempts to communicate with the animals they meet, Burke calls them “terrible f*cking creatures” and demands his face be powdered to perfection despite the fact they’re in the middle of a forest. He constantly patronises her and undermines her ability to comprehend the sublime, yet when he states humans are the “masters” of it, Awak replies “I’m scared to feel myself the master of something so big”, clearly indicating her understanding of the concept and his egotistical misinterpretation of it. Jacobi questions the validity that these privileged, white philosophers, scholars and politicians have by pointing out the irony the most of these men lived a much more sheltered life than the majority of the people they preached to.
The satirising comes to a climax as the film ends, with a visual nod to the painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, an image that characterises the Romantic period. This image epitomizes the movement that centered on worshiping the sublime. Jacobi has Burke mirror the pose of the man in the painting, whilst urinating off the top of the cliff in one final mockery of the Edmund Burke’s character and his total lack of respect for nature. This intelligent film offers an original representation of one of the founders of the modern Western world, drawing some much-needed attention to his bias and flaws rather than blindly praising him for his writing.
The Trouble with Nature – Leeds Film Festival
by Mary Fairclough (University of York) and Andrew McInnes (Edge Hill University)
in British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
The Trouble with Nature imagines a troubled Edmund Burke reworking his aesthetic treatise, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (first published 1757), by travelling to the Alps in 1769 to experience the sublime for himself. Filmed with a small crew, two professional actors, and no financial support, the production of The Trouble with Nature is almost as quixotic as the film’s subject matter. Edmund Burke, played with a mixture of foppish ennui and frustrated awe by Antony Langdon, is accompanied by his own female Sancho Panza in Nathalia Acevedo’s Awak, a servant sent from the Americas by Burke’s brother, whose very presence serves to subvert Burke’s quest for mastery: her practical, female, colonial identities combine to quietly question the grounds of Burke’s desires. The film is a fantastic intervention into Burke’s aesthetic theories: his absurd Grand Tour of the Alps and his unlikely relationship with Awak are filmic fictions. However, the film offers its own aesthetically stunning, thought-provoking, and even funny philosophical enquiry into our vexed relationship with nature, and its roots in Enlightenment and Romantic thought.
Mirroring the film’s two-hander between Burke and Awak, this review takes the form of a conversation between Mary Fairclough and Andrew McInnes.
AMC: Thanks so much for bringing this film to my attention. In The Trouble with Nature, Burke carries a copy of his treatise with him on his journey across the Alps. What did you think of the film’s engagement with A Philosophical Enquiry?
MF: The film uses the Philosophical Enquiry in brilliant ways, which made me think again about the book itself. The real Edmund Burke was an empirical philosopher, and his arguments in the Philosophical Enquiry are built around the evidence of the senses, but the film helped me see how funny it is that he wrote about the sublime in nature from his house in London, without ever having experienced such scenes. So it makes sense that he might test out the theories in the book with what the film calls ‘field studies’ and ‘experiments’. But of course the experiences we see in the film can’t match up to the book’s theories, and Burke finds that very confronting! The book feels like a protagonist in the film: Burke carries it everywhere, and it gets wet, and dusty, as the journey proceeds. When unsure of himself, he reads out sections from the book to try and form his responses, but the theory just doesn’t fit the practice. The film is really interested in scale, and we see how laughable it is that the sublime might be contained within this little book. I wondered whether the film might discuss the beautiful as well, as Burke quotes once from that part of the book, and Awak is a figure who undoes Burke’s feminized models of beauty in the Philosophical Enquiry in really interesting ways; but the film keeps its focus on the sublime.
MF: You’re interested in the connections between the sublime and the ridiculous, and The Trouble with Nature certainly is too. What did you make of the film’s treatment of the ridiculous?
AMC: I really enjoyed how the film makes much of the mismatch between Burke’s sublime theories and his more ridiculous experiences in the Alps. Later aesthetic theorists than Burke such as S T Coleridge and Jean Paul Richter argue that feeling ridiculous arises from the disproportion between our finite existence and our desire to experience the infinite, and I think The Trouble with Nature embodies this idea! Its sensibilities flip between an awestruck appreciation of its mountainous scenery and a more subversive sense of its main character’s failings: Burke declares human mastery over nature in the film, but the trouble with nature, as it were, is that it escapes mastery, causing Burke discomfort and embarrassment. Attacked at one point by an army of ants, he protests: ‘That’s the trouble with nature, it’s so insistent!’ At anotjer, he memorably tries hallucinogenic mushrooms at one point, vomiting, then growling like an animal at a tree! In my research on the ridiculous, I argue that the ‘ridiculous’ (as opposed to ‘ridicule’) also encourages a feeling of togetherness, through shared laughter. I think the film works toward this other sense of the ridiculous too. For example, the relationship between Burke and Awak matures over the course of the film, so that, whilst Awak never laughs with Burke, nor does she laugh at him – I don’t think she laughs in the film – but when they share a hug towards the end of The Trouble with Nature it feels like this odd couple have reached a strange new kind of relationship.
AMC: You said that Awak is a figure who undoes Burke’s feminized models of beauty in the film – how does she accomplish this?
MF: Nathalia Acevedo is a beautiful woman, but Awak’s character and her engagement with the world contest Burke’s statements about beauty in the Philosophical Enquiry, where beauty is defined through smallness and smoothness. In his book ‘An air of robustness and strength is very prejudicial to beauty. An appearance of delicacy, and even of fragility, is almost essential to it.’ In the film Awak marches with Burke up mountains and down valleys while carrying all their possessions, and she protects and rescues him from scrapes throughout. And more fundamentally, Awak subtly challenges Burke’s insistence on aestheticizing people and things. When he asks her whether Native American people venerate darkness and obscurity (another snippet from the Philosophical Enquiry), she replies: ‘Not really. Darkness comes every night’. While he sees ruin and emptiness in the Alps, she forages, bathes, and interacts with her environment. And while for Burke in the film, ‘enlightenment’ comes from the mastery over the natural world, for Awak ‘illumination’ comes from knowing that ‘Nature has a soul. We all have a soul. And maybe it’s the same soul.’ There’s a suggestion at the end that Burke may have absorbed this idea, but it’s complicated by the film’s commitment to the ridiculous, which I enjoyed very much.
We could talk more about the visual sumptuousness of the film, or the way it provokes questions about climate change today – there’s so much to discuss! – but instead we urge our fellow eighteenth-centuryists to catch the film before it – like the glaciers around Mont Blanc – might disappear forever!
Problemas Com a Natureza – 44ª Mostra de São Paulo
by Marcelo Müller in Papo de Cinema
In essence, the unnatural tends to be ridiculous in Problems with Nature. The protagonist is the philosopher Edmund Burke (Antony Langdon) who, in the company of his maid, Awak (Nathalia Acevedo), wanders through the Alps in order to be inspired. He wants to write about the sublime. From the beginning, the subject’s pomp clashes with the ancestral rules of the environment. The insistence on reaffirming the woman’s servility, the phlegm with which she moves through that space indifferent to her supposed superiority, all of this comes from the rich staging proposed by filmmaker Illum Jacobi. The prevalence of local dictates appears in the contrast evidenced by the noble’s laughable attempt to keep intact the protocols that benefited from his nobility. Gradually, it becomes clear that the world of this rationalist is, in face of that, an invention full of formalities simply useless in the vastness whose irrigation is totally different, since they were not invented. The thinker reveals himself to be a childish individual, especially due to chronic dependence, barely disguised as guaranteed eminence at birth.
A small escape from this wandering trajectory offers important contextual data. Creditors arrive at Burke’s residence, this ode to the decadence of the bourgeoisie, and find a servant disoriented amid the breakdowns of rooms messed up by monetary and moral deterioration. Although quick, this glimpse allows us to better understand the circumstances, adding another layer of laughter to the alleged magnitude of the aristocrat who wandered towards enlightenment. In fact, he ends up taking a convenient journey to distance him from the angry collectors. Illum Jacobi demarcates the wandering of the protagonist and the faithful squire, in a way, alluding to the dynamics between the also wandering Don Quixote and Sancho Pança, also showing Burke as someone who faces imaginary windmills, as if he fought against threatening giants. However, this stilted subject is not deflected by the excess of reading about the stable heroes, but by his own belief in the pillars of classic and “elevated” society.
Traveling through stunning sceneries, travelers exhibit subtle, but decisive differences in their contact with nature. Burke lives to complain about spontaneous rituals, such as the ants’ traffic, the direction in which the wind blows, the action to retake the terrain that was tried to be colonized by man. In short, he puts himself in an intermittent conflict with the part of the world that his reason cannot quite sum up. Awak, on the other hand, is completely obedient, because she is aware of her place in the cruel civilized English society, showing a greater capacity to connect organically with phenomena that surround her. Unlike the cloth-covered boss, gradually understood as a buffoon who keeps the wig of the 18th century European aristocracy as distinctive, it allows her body to uncomplicated commune, see the fine fabric that partially covers it. Her delight, unconditioned by the intellect, attentive to the capacity conferred on her by the sharpening of the senses, is the kind of experience forbidden to the philosopher blunted by the imperative of reason.
Problems with Nature, then, pose an almost irreconcilable dilemma to the protagonist, this taking into account their objective and what is necessary to achieve it. The garish attachment to titles and positions that serve purely a social constitution based on dominant and dominated does not fit into a practically wild panorama. From the height of his enormous intelligence, he ignores that the sublime cannot be captured, perhaps having his existence understood by the beauty of subjectivities. There is no way to define events with irrefutable precision, as they provoke in some that they do not operate in others. Awak, in turn, physically experiences the circumstances, intelligently bargaining with the notions constituted for her to understand herself to be inferior to some extent. The film establishes this violent clash, without doing so to scramble disputes, instigating the viewer to think about the place of aristocracy and servitude, especially in an environment that does not require artifice. By contrasting ways of experiencing life, it creates something full of layers and varnishes, recurring both to aesthetic beauty and to rationalization to say what it came from.
Problemas Com a Natureza – 44ª Mostra de São Paulo
By Renan Santos in Cine Eterno
The search for the sublime is what guides “The Trouble With Nature”, not only the journey of its protagonist, Edmund Burke (Antony Langdon), but that of the film itself, which to say that it does not have great ambitions would be unfair with its own pretensions . And it is, rather, a very pretentious film. It is not at all a demerit, not least because the director Illum Jacobi manages to balance this ambition with his key characters and a sense of self-criticism generated by the comic tone that faces the protagonist, figure in a way that is pathetic in the way it is constituted by period patterns but true to what we know historically.
Obviously, it also serves as satire, and is part of the counterpoint that is attempted to be established. A man’s discontent and frustration at what he intends not only to explore, but to use as a philosophical inspiration to focus on his writing. The search for the sublime may also serve as a perfect counterpoint to contemporary society, in the way that digital tools simultaneously attract and distance people from that contact, which serves more as a background to display on social networks, than to a connection to the real world. However, in one way or another, it comes.
Because the problem is not even nature itself, but who is in contact with it. That is why it is so sublime – if I forgive the word – the character of Nathalia Acevedo, who plays Awak, the native guide who accompanies Burke on his journey. While the protagonist rejects everything around him, Awak seems to be welcomed by everything and everyone around her, while showing an untouched devotion to her boss. She also welcomes everything she sees ahead and, for that very reason, is also rejected by Burke, who distance themselves in their journeys.
What they find, each one has for himself, but what we find in Jacobi’s work, in the general set of the work, is something unique and done with a clear intention. Unfortunately, unintentionally, the desire to watch “The Trouble With Nature” in a cinema, with the best possible quality, is almost immeasurable, as it is a production that generates not only images, but impressive sounds that involve, enchant, haunt and they move, because they fulfill their ambitions, achieve this status of art that meets exactly what they reflect through their characters. It is to fill the eyes!
What is not eye-catching, however, is the performance of Antony Langdon, but precisely because it is so visceral that it generates a kind of justified disgust. It incorporates the satire in such a way that it enters a spiral of decadence in an act totally befitting the misfortune that the protagonist encounters, in a dramatic tone that when it culminates in its conclusion is the encounter of what he was looking for, in a scene that synthesizes, not only imagery, but with an emotional appeal that transcends what images can translate. There was a limit, there is no more. It is sublime how we face man and the world at that moment.
Illum Jacobi: a (sublime) trip to the Alps
by Pierluigi Panza 9.7.2020 in Corriere della Sera
As a film debut, the Danish director Illum Jacobi chose, recklessly, to draw a film straight from an eighteenth-century philosophy book. The Trouble With Nature tells of the journey to the Alps by Edmund Burke, the so-called British Cicero (1729 – 1797), philosopher, politician Tories favorable to the American Revolution and unfavorable to the French one. He is remembered above all for his Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756-59), a cornerstone of the History of Aesthetics, a book that places beauty beyond the capacity of a work of art or Nature have to upset our soul (the Sublime, in fact) opened, opened the doors to Romanticism.
In 1769, twelve years after the publication of the treatise, Burke embarks on a journey “inside” the Sublime created by Illum Jacobi between immaculate scenarios and extraordinary close-ups of Antony Langdon and Nathalia Acevedo. The stakes are high: Burke has lost everything due to risky investments in the colonies and his future depends on the success of a new edition of his Treatise on Aesthetics, whose thesis he wants to “test” in the encounter with Nature . Left without servitude, he travels with a West Indian maid borrowed from his brother’s plantation.
The icy philosopher, never out of the city, is not at ease in experimenting his thesis in the Alps. As Leopardi would have written shortly thereafter, “when the truth appears” the theory miserably falls. The journey is a disaster: Burke poses like Fussli’s wayfarer (a little ostentatiously): he scrutinizes, listens and drinks from the streams, discovers the caves, eats bread and champignons and tries to explain to mountaineers that his treatise is in its second edition. But everything is too “green, green, green” for him “!
He ends up getting angry, getting drunk, growling against a tree. The jagged peaks make him discover terror. Eyes closed, shortness of breath, he feels an incredible feeling: the abyss. The Aosta Valley Alps are large cathedrals of “frozen water”. Dominated by a night sky of moonlit clouds, Burke and the fantesca, at least for a moment, huddle. “Listen, listen,” he says to her: it is the ice of a crevasse that melts. The wayfarer and the fantastic descend, penetrate the caves populated by night birds. Despite being beautiful, he has no way of making love. He is too philosopher: the mountaineers will show her quartz and thousand-year-old hard stones, while he, without gloves, challenges the snow. The mountains, Hegel would have said, those huge useless masses begin to be, for the Romantics, the cathedrals behind which “God is”. In the white immensity Burke is lost, he is desolate. He wrote it: the Sublime “is the echo of a high feeling”, is “the highest degree that consciousness can feel” before getting lost, slipping on the scree, losing the wig, observing the infinite silences and the deepest quiet beyond the rock.
It is a film of long silences, strictly for high enthusiasts of the genre. The aspect that always strikes today’s observer in watching costume films set in the landscape is the impressive being always the same as Nature itself: they are there with the cap, the wig, the pannier and the stick exactly where we today we are with a helmet and ski racket or with a mountain bike: the same conifers, the same flowers, the same stones. The film was presented at the twenty-first edition of ShorTS International Film Festival, the Trieste film event scheduled on the web until Sunday 12 July 2020 thanks to MYmovies.
The Trouble With Nature: the Reason that generates monsters
By Chiara Tartagni 9.7.2020 in CAMERA LOOK
In 1757 Burke published the famous treatise Investigation of the Origin of Our Ideas of Sublime and Bello, according to which Nature, in its most intense and dangerous phenomena, would be the source of that “delicious terror” which would constitute the strongest of emotions human. This Sublime would oppose the sense of Beauty, given by all that is pleasant and gives us a feeling of harmony. It was a research of enormous weight in the Enlightenment culture, including the artistic one. But in Jacobi’s film 12 years have passed since that glorious publication and our philosopher travels in the bill on the French Alps in search of inspiration: he wants to experience the Sublime firsthand to republish his updated and in-depth masterpiece.
His journey will have decidedly unexpected consequences, also for us and for our idea of genius, because Edmund Burke proves to be more and more ridiculous from scene to scene. He drags himself on the mountains fully dressed, pretends to be put up and powdered every morning as if he were going to a court reception, when instead the wig gets caught in the branches and the powder marks his wrinkles. Everything gets boring. “It’s no use,” he repeats. He is annoyed and even disgusted by any natural manifestation: flies, ants, even the trees themselves. But why? Because he is not interested in really discovering Nature. Burke’s only desire is to confirm his ideas, conceived while sitting comfortably at his desk. And it is here that the Native American maid Awak begins to play an increasingly central role, who bears Burke’s bulky luggage and philosophical tirades without the slightest complaint. The confrontation with her is merciless for her “master”: where he sees his body only as an instrument of physical urgency, she uses it to experience reality, to enjoy everything around her. Her feet are firmly planted on the ground, but her gaze is pointed towards the sky.
Edmund Burke is not only the conservative philosopher and thinker, but above all the degenerate incarnation of the Enlightenment Reason, freezing, rigid, truncated, powerless in the face of death. Awak, which is the spirituality that comes from sensory experience, sensuality without blame, natural wisdom, is opposed to it. Jacobi is very good at adding minute and minute incisive dialogues between the two, beautifully interpreted by Anthony Chester Langdon and Nathalia Acevedo. Burke continues to lose ground by clashing with Awak’s serene reasonableness, even to the point of losing his ability to reply: he, the philosopher, whose presence the Alps should feel proud of. He does not understand the great democratic lesson of Nature: the wind that touches him, similarly touches Awak, animals, flowers, grass.
Jacobi knows that the Sublime was not yet at the peak of expression at the time of Burke, who was the first to develop a structured idea of it. It would have been a few years later, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the music (albeit still classicist) by Ludwig van Beethoven and the paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. And with the splendid Allegretto della Sinfonia n. 7 (1811-12) by Beethoven opens and closes the film. It is as if the director wanted to announce immediately how the story will end: certainly not good for the human being who wants to make Nature something halfway between a muse to be exploited and a monster to fight. At the same time, he chooses to “frame” the story also from an artistic point of view. The two characters who at the beginning of the film discover Burke’s empty and ruined house are none other than Samuel Johnson, an extremely multifaceted and influential intellectual, and Joshua Reynolds, one of the most important English painters of the eighteenth century. These two figures represent the cultural humus on which Burke had been able to cultivate his ideas, which find the right visual goal in the end. In fact, we find the first truly explicit pictorial quote (and much less poetic than the original), in which Jacobi condenses his thesis. Burke goes to personify Friedrich’s Wanderer On the Sea Of Fog (1818) just when he declares war on Nature, which in his opinion has taken away from him something of which he had finally understood the value. He does not think that it was he, the Reason, who wanted to force his path to the extreme limit. “Now you’re going to pay it,” says Burke to the landscape. And here the creaking noises of mountain life are replaced by the artificial ones of a train and a helicopter. Yes, Nature paid for it through our actions and our “evolution”.
At the end of it all, you would also want to see them together as a couple, these two: Edmund and Awak, Reason and Spirituality of the senses. A bit like it should always be in our everyday life. And perhaps this is precisely the director’s final message, and the reason why the eighteenth century is not by chance returning to cinema and TV so many times (think of films such as La Favorita, Portrait of the Young Woman in Flames, or the very recent series The Great). We are in a very delicate historical moment, in which all the turmoil that has been brewing for years under the ashes is finding voice and manifestation. The same turmoil that finds its cultural origin in the eighteenth century and that some artists choose as a filter to talk about our era. Because surely, if “the sleep of Reason generates monsters”, the captivity of the Senses generates others. Only one wise thing says Burke: “Without light there could not be its opposite, darkness”. But even wiser is Awak, who sees in the darkness only an elementary fact to get used to. It would be healthy if we did too.
“The poet contemplates nature better than the scientist.”
By Dafne Franceschetti 8.7.2020 in Sentieri Selvaggi
It is an old diatribe that guides our minds to more or less vague high school artistic-literary reminiscences, the one raised by the aphorism of the German poet Novalis. As if to say that science and rationalism cannot push themselves to grasp the endemic sublimity of nature, they cannot go beyond that, and cross those thresholds where only the genius daimon of the artist, the seer poet, the melancholy and saturnine soul in the his creative act of faith, they come. For romantics like Novalis, nature is mysterious, dark, uncanny and grandiose, something that man, infinitely small, can only contemplate, or in which Leopardian can drown, observing you ecstatically, from above, the uncontainable chaos; just like in the perhaps most exquisitely romantic picture of art history, the greatest pedagogical example of the spirit of the time, painted by Friedrich in 1818: we naturally speak of the Wayfarer in the sea of fog, a famous work that wanders like a perpetual spirit in the film d debut of the Danish director Illum Jacobi, presented as a world preview at the 50th Rotterdam International Film Festival (50th IFFR), and now for the first time in Italy at the ShorTS Film Festival in Trieste. Entitled The Trouble With Nature, the work owes much to the landscape painting of the late nineteenth century and not by chance. It is in fact a cross- section of the life of the naturalized British Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, author of the treatise entitled A philosophical investigation on our ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, a milestone in the aesthetic discipline, ready, at the time, to arouse attention (and criticisms) of philosophers and theorists of the caliber of Immanuel Kant. An ante litteram romantic – thus sanctioning the official distancing himself from the rigor of the neoclassical “beauty” – for the English philosopher “it is the darkness that contains the sublime. Everything that can arouse ideas of pain and danger, that is, everything that is in a certain sense terrible, or that concerns terrible objects, or that acts in a similar way to terror, is in a certain sense sublime ».
The director chooses to tell a precise and sensitive moment in Burke’s biography (played by Antony Langdon), when, poor and in full creative impasse, he decided to leave England to hide in the Alps, in an attempt to rewrite, more than ten years later, the work that made him famous. On this grand naturalistic tour he is not alone, but accompanied by the maid Wank (Nathalia Acevedo), coming from the colonies of the West Indies. Two worlds and two ways of perceiving and experiencing nature, diametrically opposed, which bring to mind the post-colonial and ontological suggestions launched by Malick in The New World. But it does not end here, because in the Alpine skyline, a land dear to the director Jacobi who has a career as a mountain documentary filmmaker, the echo of another masterpiece of the American filmmaker becomes domineering: there, in the valleys and in the woods , The Trouble With Nature rereads in its way all those unsolved questions about the finiteness of man put on the field in A Hidden Life.
A man in search of beauty, an ‘on the road’ journey bathed in a cold, surgical natural light, carefully chosen by Jacobi – who in addition to directing also signed photography – as if to imply the impossibility of this Fitzcarraldiana challenge. Here, in fact, it is not a question of passing a ship through the mountains, but of the all-human overbearing claim to grasp and fix in words the greatness and mystery of nature; in other words, to dominate it.
And then the real question is perhaps not what Beauty is and what Sublime is but, rather, who is the owner, man or Nature? At the same question, in times not far from those of Burke, a great poet ended an unfortunate Icelandic buried under “a sand mausoleum”, punished for having dared to challenge in a dialectical duel Mother Nature. Today, in the new geological era called anthropocene, the power ratio seems alas to be reversed. And here the servant becomes master.
The only solution, therefore, to be able to live in this scenario is to “stay with the trouble”, as Donna Haraway would say, and perhaps it is no coincidence that Illum Jacobi used this term in the title of his film.
The Trouble With Nature
By Lorenzo Ciofani 8.7.2020 in CINEMATOGRAFO
Road movie, indeed, Grand tour movie. The protagonist is Edmund Burke, the beating soul of The Trouble with Nature, already passed at the Rotterdam Festival and now in competition in the New Footprints section at ShorTS 2020. It was 1769 when the philosopher, fleeing London where he was chased by debt collectors and private ghosts, embarks on a trip to the Alps with the aim of rewriting his book on the Sublime.
Burke, one of the greatest theorists of Romanticism, owes the speculation on the term “sublime”: in the word that indicates what is beyond the threshold, beyond the allowed limit, Burke sees everything that can arouse ideas of pain and danger. The reason for the Grand tour, after all, is to measure oneself against that “horrendous that fascinates”, so terrible as to arouse terror, therefore the strongest emotion possible for the human soul.
It is clear that even superficial knowledge of elements of Burke’s philosophy is necessary to access The Trouble with Nature, the first work of the Danish artist Illum Jacobi who in every way tries not to intimidate the most insecure spectators. It does this by inserting connections that would like to lighten the learned exploration of the mammoth protagonist by highlighting its latencies, clumsiness, and torments. After all, however, Jacobi ends up talking better with those who have some confidence with the magisterium of Burke, also proposing to those who are fasting the portrait of a middle-aged man obsessed with time passing and financial insecurity.
More than iconoclastic fervor, it is perhaps – let the expression pass – of operation sympathy, aimed at probing the more human aspects of one of those characters who often tend to monumentalize a bit lazily. The assumption is interesting: the rewriting of the treatise A philosophical investigation on the origin of our ideas of Sublime and Bello responds yes to a philosophical need (Burke wrote it at nineteen, in the film he is a disheveled forty year old) and at the same time to a economic need, because the re-release of the youthful masterpiece could guarantee him some important entrances.
The two components are closely connected and the encounter with nature – both “thought” and never experienced – is a fundamental step for him. And, who knows, do you want to see that that same nature is not so sublime? The Trouble with Nature tells a daring journey, of course, but also the progressive coming of age of the servant of Burke, a native of the West Indies borrowed from her brother’s plantation. Where the cultured does not arrive, the uncultivated arrives: it is she who perceives those sensations evoked and never experienced by Burke, to identify in nature an ancestral link that seems to be precluded to the philosopher.
In Jacobi’s rereading, poor Burke looks like a ridiculous man and the film is the tragedy that affects his status. Immersive and elegant in its workmanship (Frederik Jacobi’s photography is spectacular), The Trouble with Nature constantly chases the sublime image in the manner of its antihero, but with the awareness of telling a failure in terms of a comic and sometimes scatological drama. Dominated by an iconic ending that testifies, all things considered, affection and understanding towards a poor Christ overwhelmed by nature.
Presented at the Rotterdam Festival The Trouble with Nature marks the directorial debut of the Danish director Illum Jacobi. The film premieres in Italy at the 21st edition of ShorTs International Film Festival in competition in the New Footprints section dedicated to the best feature films in emerging cinema. The screening will be streamed free of charge on MyMovies on 8 July at 20:00.
The film tells the journey to the Alps by the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke (Antony Langdon) in 1769, twelve years after the publication of his treatise on aesthetics: A philosophical investigation into the origin of our ideas of Sublime and Bello. A fundamental work for the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism, a reference point for philosophers such as Denis Diderot and Immanuel Kant. Coinciding with the reprint of the book Burke decides to take a journey into nature towards the Alps accompanied by his maid Awak (Nathalia Acevedo) to rewrite his work with greater awareness, living what he theorized, the Sublime, in first person.
The Trouble With Nature: The concrete search for the Sublime
By Caterina Sabato 7.7.2020 in CINEMATOGRAFO
“Sublime is a new sensation,” explains Edmund Burke to Awak, a native of the West Indies who serves him and reveres on the long journey on foot in Provence. Now overwhelmed by debt due to bankruptcy investments on the colonies, the philosopher hopes that the new edition of his youthful masterpiece will improve his economic situation and his fame.
Among the main theorists of English Romanticism, Edmund Burke was the one who clearly distinguished the idea of Bello from that of Sublime: the first, in summary, indicates what is aesthetically pleasing while the second – one of the key points of the artistic movement and literary – it is what has the power to fascinate us, upset us, suggest us and even terrify us. “The horror that fascinates”, wrote the philosopher, “nature, in its most terrifying aspects, such as stormy seas, snowy peaks or volcanic eruptions, becomes the source of the Sublime because it produces the strongest emotion that the soul is able to feel “.
In The Trouble With Nature Illum Jacobi gives, however, a parodistic portrait of the philosopher emeritus and his approach to nature: the problem with the nature of the title, in fact, refers to the disappointing impact that Burke has with it in his long pilgrimage . Nature is certainly not as welcoming as he hoped, but it annoys him deeply: the ants sting him, the sun warms him, the heights tire him and he can not have any lighting, soon starting to understand the abysmal difference between theorization and experience . Haughty, with his white wig, all dressed up as if he were at court and with the book in his hand to take notes awaits the inspiration that does not come.
Instead, those who seem to fully grasp the Sublime in nature are the maid Awak who certainly does not have the same cultural tools as Burke but has a higher sensitivity and intelligence in capturing the essence of nature, literally entering into symbiosis with it. Burke wants to find the Sublime in nature in a too technical and mechanical way unlike what Awak does who instinctively lives it, lying on a lawn, immersed in clear water or sinking his fingers in the rain-soaked earth. This deeply irritates the envious philosopher of the privileged “relationship” between a “simple servant” whom he considers inferior and the nature which in his convictions must submit to man as Awak does with him.
The Trouble With Nature has the same power and beauty as a naturalistic documentary: the viewer is literally overwhelmed by the spectacle of wild nature – endless expanses of trees and lavender, streams, impenetrable mountains, frozen caves – enhanced by the photograph of Frederik Jacobi thus making , the film the image version of Burke’s treatise. An intimate road movie that renounces entertainment for a profound and implied reflection on the relationship between nature and man and on the harmful attitude of overwhelming the latter who is often “punished” by nature itself as happens in the film to Burke who he finds himself alone and desperate in the snowy mountains. A highly current topic contained in the last significant image of the film that ironically re-elaborates the painting Viandante sul mare di fog by Caspar David Friedrich, the most iconic work of German Romanticism: the wanderer is no longer heroic and does not contemplate with ecstasy nature but exhausted and increasingly irritated performs its physiological needs in front of a wonderful view.
A TREATY FOR IMAGES AND SOUNDS THAT REFLECTS ON PREJUDICES AND SUPPONENCES STILL UNFORTUNATELY PERSISTENT.
Review by Giancarlo Zappoli in MyMovies.it
Edmund Burke in 1757 published a treatise on aesthetics that would attract the attention of Diderot and Kant. The title is “A philosophical investigation into the origin of our ideas of Sublime and Bello”. In it there is a distinction between Beauty (which for Burke corresponds to aesthetically pleasing) and Sublime that goes further and can force us to experience strong sensations, including horror.
We met Burke in 1769 after he left economic problems in London and decided to go to the Alps where he would rework the treaty. He is accompanied by Awak, a servant lent to him by his brother, a maid from the colonies of the West Indies. The two face Nature with very different approaches.
Illum Jacobi in turn, like Burke but with a completely different spirit, creates a treatise for images and sounds that reflects on the relationship between theorization and experience, on the interaction between man and woman and on the stupidity of a claimed ethnic superiority.
Because the Burke he presents to us is a haughty Englishman, convinced that everything is due to him, unable to go beyond the padronal / colonial idea, thus preventing him from seeing the woman beyond the servant who must prepare her tea in the woods as if they were in Piccadilly Circus and powdered it as if he were going to an evening in an aristocratic club.
Immersed in an environment that becomes progressively more majestic Burke experiences the hiatus that exists (or can exist) between theory and experience in the field. Wank has never theorized but understands and speaks two languages (unlike him who knows nothing of French) and has a relationship with Nature that makes her perceive that Sublime that her ‘master pro tempore’ has theorized but cannot grasp For him, Nature are annoying ants, and various inconveniences. For her, the clear water or the grass of a lawn to adhere to with a body capable of still feeling going beyond the limits of a culture too pleased with itself to be able to let go of a contact that it has only theorized.
We look to the past with the contribution of two actors who hold, together with the natural environment, the whole film reminding us that the ways and social conventions have changed but some prejudices and assumptions are still, unfortunately, persistent.
Edmund Burke’s Search for the Sublime in Illum Jacobi’s The Trouble with Nature
by Fabio Vittorini in Duels
Imagine a garbed and painted Englishman lying in a lavender field, who gets up and reads a reflection on the indifference that follows the lack of pleasure, gets nervous because he doesn’t find the Alps (“Where are the Alps? I have to find them, these mountains of terror that can lead me to the sublime “), then calms down by drinking some tea that a servant prepares for him (” The English must have a good cup of tea “), with which he soon resumes his journey through the woods. Imagine that, after complaining about too many trees, while urinating against a trunk, the Englishman gets nervous at the sight of some ants walking on his foot and inveighs (“This is the problem with nature: it is so insistent”). We are in Provence during an unspecified summer of the eighteenth century. We are at the beginning of The Trouble with Nature, the first fictional feature film written and directed by the Danish director Illum Jacobi. The title is inspired by the last line quoted: “This is the trouble with nature: it’s so insistent”.
The film, presented in the Bright Future competition at the 49th edition of the Rotterdam Film Festival, tells a fictional episode in the life of the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who in 1757, at the age of nineteen, published the treatise A philosophical investigation into the origin of our ideas of Sublime and Beautiful, with which, in full Enlightenment, he laid the foundations of the future romantic aesthetic, mother of all subsequent aesthetics. In particular, Burke opposed the classic concept of Beauty, modeled on loving passion, populated by finite and composite entities, expression of the victory of good, the concept of Sublime, modeled on fear, populated by infinite and complex entities, expression of the struggle between good. it’s bad. Jacobi imagines that, many years after the publication of the book that gave him fame, a Burke now in financial distress decides to go to the French Alps to experience that Sublime then deductively described only starting from Aristotelian thought, in order to rewrite his treatise giving it new life and new fame. On the one hand, the frivolity of the man who demands tea and make-up even in conditions of greatest deprivation, the arrogance of the master towards the indigenous servant Awak (played by a resplendent Nathalia Acevedo) given to him by his brother, and the neurosis of the intellectual, masterfully expressed by the muttering interpretation of Antony Langdon (former Spacehog guitarist), they are made the subject of a ridicule that slides throughout the film, up to the amazing shot with which Jacobi reproduces Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer over the sea of fog, a romantic painting par excellence, with a Burke from behind again urinating on the Alpine ravines. On the other hand, the inventor of Romanticism, through shooting at the limit in real locations, is shown fighting against himself and his mental habits, until he undresses everything, make-up tea and servant, so much so that it could be attributed to him. in retrospect, Friedrich’s thought: “I have to be alone and know that I am alone in order to contemplate and feel nature completely; I have to abandon myself to what surrounds me, I have to merge with my clouds and with the rocks in order to be what I am. Solitude is indispensable for my dialogue with nature”. So much so that even Jacobi’s thought could be attributed to him retrospectively, who after years of mountaineering and expeditions in the Arctic and the Amazon during which, pushed by Lars Von Trier, he made several documentaries, he landed on fiction: “When I was young I walked into the wilderness. Sometimes for months. As I immersed myself in the terrain, I realized that there is a deep connection between the internal and external landscapes expressed as a type of knowledge that is imprinted in the memory of a place. This internal landscape of memory holds spiritual and emotional apprehension that fascinates and confuse me. Sometimes I have felt a connection to nothing and everything at the same time, but when I returned to civilization, anguish and darkness overwhelmed me. […]. We have spent centuries building a fortress around us, both psychologically and in crude infrastructure. But what is under this thin layer of reason? “.
If we then reflect on the fact that the Sublime whose perception Burke hunts up and down the Alps is hidden right under (sub) the vertiginous and undecidable border (limen) between interiority and matter, between everything and nothing, between fusion and division , between dialogue and loneliness, a source of excitement and anguish at the same time, then, even if a helicopter noise escapes us, winking in the last glimpse of the soundscape of the film, we cannot fail to realize that what we have seen is not a period movie, a genre of which Jacobi parodies many clichés, and that Burke himself, uncertain narcissist ridiculous pensive lacerated courageous titanic, very small and very large, human too human, is basically nothing but a merciless portrait of contemporary man, still imprisoned in his condition of epigone of Romanticism.
Movie of the Day: The Trouble with Nature (2020), Illum Jacobi
The Trouble with Nature (Denmark, 2020) . Direction: Illum Jacobi Script: Illum Jacobi & Hans Frederik Jacobsen. Photography Frederik Jacobi . Music: Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans . Alexandra Strauss montage . Art director: Sara Sachs & Christoph Beyer. Sara Sachs Costumes . With Anthony Langdon, Nathalia Acevedo, Urik Wivel, Andrew Jeffers, Ian Burns, Pascal Allano, Gilbert Ravanel
The already well-recognized and economically bankrupt philosopher Edmund Burke (Langdon) decides to travel from London to the Alps, to rewrite his aesthetic treatise on the sublime, a concept created by him. He is accompanied by his brother’s maid, Awak (Acevedo).
It is from a romantic perspective that the opposition between the rational Burke and the instinctive Awake is constructed, in a way that is not subtle but not excessive. And there is no doubt about who the film empathizes with: Burke is grumpy, clumsy, affected, spoiled, irascible and arrogant, in addition to hating with all his being almost everything he encounters on the trip, or at least to express it that way; Awake, on the other hand, is restrained, has a calm relationship with his own instincts (which Burke immediately denies, for example, after apparently having come to enjoy his maid) and also with the natural universe that surrounds them (he has a strong relationship with water and hygiene, which we don’t see Burke having much contact with, wears only a thin veil that makes her breasts visible and in an emblematic scene she even seems to communicate with a deer that is nearby, a trance that is broken by an indifferent Burke). There are psychologizing elements that support an almost infantile posture of the philosopher, who sleeps in a fetal position and with his finger in his mouth covered by cloths so that his habit is not visible, which are his neglect of maternal love, which he himself comments with Awake. The film, however, manages to present such elements, all of which somehow conform to the imagery of its (film) time in terms of ideas, the female figure in relation to the male figure, etc. without falling into proselytism. Which is still a gift. On the one hand the film extracts humor from watching a scholar full of abstract thoughts having to do with ants in his shoes, urinating (and having his limb partially exposed), or letting go gas and having an intestinal crisis, after extricating himself from Awake, in a scene that had already been imagined something similar from the moment of the urine, bringing a physicality that imposes itself on him no less (perhaps even more) than on others. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Burke himself admits his hunger to experience new things, as when he reports having learned of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the region, which would make those who consumed them transcend the visible world and enter the spiritual plane, and what he would do use them if I had the opportunity. And it will. On the other hand, he never forgets the rituals that make him who he is, or thinks he is, a mark of distinction, being powdered by the maid every morning, in whatever location or condition. And even when somewhat altered, he wanders through the snowy alpine desert, and now alone, he still remembers the commands he directed at Wake. And a second moment that the virile member is partially exposed in the image also has its meaning. It is a rare moment in which he seems very ephemerally removed from the relationship between master and slave, and even asks where Awake slept. The maid, on a likely wise exit, does not play her game, and maintains her distance. The film seems to pay its tribute to Barry Lyndon by Kubrick , either in choosing the musical theme of his opening and closing moments that could well be part of that one (the second movement of Symphony No.7 in A Major ), or in the use of very close lighting (at least as an effect ) of the “natural” achieved by this or, more broadly, in the Herculean struggle between reason and instincts not completely submerged that according to some ( Kubrick by Kubrick) would be the common element of the director’s entire filmography. This clash has its most intense moment in the epiphany lived by Burke high in the Alps, but that he would deny it or not live it consciously, as he says nothing about it if he remembers. Or when he struggles with the desire to have sex with Awake, preferring a solitary ritual equivalent to intercourse. And the ending intends less to undo something of the little that his narrative presented than an aesthetic solution of emulating a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, as well as beauty destroying not only the foundations of his unrestricted faith in reason on the part of the philosopher but, apparently, your own sanity. Interesting debut film by Jacobi, which he hadn’t even directed before. Adomeit Film/La Fabrica Nocturna Cinéma. 92 minutes.