One year after she accidentally killed an elderly dog walker with her car, architect Alva Achebe (Neneh Cherry) skips delivering a lecture to commune with her African immigrant father and her victim while wandering around Stockholm in search of solace and inspiration.
Mark Cousins can't be faulted for his energy or enthusiasm in adding Stockholm to Tirana and Belfast in his growing collection of city symphonies. But, while his familiar sing-song brogue is missing from this fictionalised odyssey, he finds new ways of addressing the audience as Neneh Cherry's grief-stricken architect muses on love and loss, remorse and recovery, hope and happiness in English, Swedish, song and text, while contemplating the impact of urban living on the human spirit. Moreover, Cousins uses music by 19th Century composer Franz Berwald, ABBA pianist Benny Andersson and Cherry herself to capture the changing moods of his heroine and her hometown.
This is very much aesthetic self-indulgence.
Equally a celebration of cities and a reprimand to Ingmar Bergman for shunning their vitality and diversity, this is very much aesthetic self-indulgence. It's also a cineaste's smorgasbord of homages and allusions, as Cousins takes cues from Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Maya Deren, Agnès Varda and Jean-Luc Godard in exploring the secret of city dwelling, the benefits of communality and the restorative power of familiar buildings and landmarks.
Combining images snatched on previous visits and acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle's exquisite experiments with light and movement, this recalls one of Patrick Keiller's film essays, with its intimate voiceover and keen eye for landscape detail. It's more than a little precious, but it's also sincere, touching and astute in its insights into social geography and human nature.
Mark Cousins is never going to be a multiplex superstar, but his distinctive brand of film essay has a way of getting under the skin.