Screened at Sheffield Doc/Fest, June 8, 2014
Jonathan Howells, first-time director of Alfred and Jakobine, set out to make an adventure film about a long-distance London cab journey, of which according to him, there have been many. Whilst doing so he also embarked on a different kind of journey, to tell the story of two people, their love affair, and how they lived their lives because of it, and in spite of it.
During the filmmaking the story developed in unexpected ways to ultimately illuminate the fantastically complex but common themes of love in various forms, and the beauty of living at least part of your life with near-total freedom. In the end, Alfred and Jakobine are like the rest of us, both empowered and constrained by their natures.
The story of the cab itself is central, sold on from a life on London streets, to cross the world’s continents. The narrative twists and turns like the journey itself, with wonderful visuals formed around film archive, diaries and photographs. With an almost eerie foresight, the adventurers would hand their camera to anyone passing, sometimes setting up shots like amateur directors. This colourful tapestry is offset by the characters themselves, who live their lives in the present, and describe and reflect on the past from their ageing perspectives.
Not only is Alfred and Jakobine narratively and thematically rich; it is also filmically beautiful and aesthetically rewarding. The form and the content are perfectly matched; the new footage is simple and doesn’t put a foot wrong, blending effortlessly with the materials of the past to create a modern-day road movie.
The editing is gently paced but driven by an internal momentum that slowly unfurls the story to reach a quietly gripping and heart-wrenching conclusion. As Howells said at the UK premiere, editor Paul Carlin, “found beautiful poetry in moments others would overlook”.
This isn’t a film about an epic historic event, or a work of revealing investigative journalism. In many ways it is both those things and more, and has much to suggest to us about the human condition, and the many forms that life journeys, and love, can take.