Enough music to watch with your eyes closed. Enough cinema to listen to with your ears closed. This Much I Know to Be True is almost as good and intimate as the previous film about Nick Cave, One More Time with Feeling, and that is a real compliment.
If Nick Cave did not exist, we would have to invent him. But fortunately he does exist which means we don't have to. Rather, he does that himself, every day in every song, every album and every performance. When the pandemic stopped him from touring, he took the government's advice to retrain and became a ceramist. This is what he tells us in the opening minutes of This Much I Know to Be True.
Then he appears in white shorts and shows us his ceramics. Sixteen images tell the story of the devil: from baby to dead person who receives forgiveness from a child.
In the next scene, the ceramist is once more a musician performing “Spinning Song”, the opening track from the album Ghosteen (2019) that gives you a lump in the throat. That album was Cave's touching ode to his son Arthur, who died in 2015 when he fell off a cliff. Unfortunately, on Monday the Australian musician announced the passing of another son of his, Jethro.
In the absence of an audience, This Much i Know to Be True is hardly a concert. Cave performs in front of the camera of Irish virtuoso Robbie Ryan. The mise-en-scène is perfect, as you would expect from a project by Cave and Andrew Dominik, the Australian director who this year is to release the Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde.
In a cathedral-like abandoned warehouse, the sunlight artfully falls on the wooden floor. Or sophisticatedly evokes a concert. Cave sings from behind a piano or a music stand and is absorbed in the music. Waren Ellis plays away on his violin and electronic music equipment. The camera circles around and occasionally catches background singers or a drummer.
In the interludes, Cave and Ellis talk a bit more about their special collaboration. Terrible things would happen if they tried to make music together, but in that “ocean of bullshit” they would sometimes fish out “snippets” of transcendent music.
Cave also returns to “The Red Hand Files”: letters from fans with little requests and big questions about life, which he answers with verve after a few days of pondering. One man asks how he should deal with the loss of wife and job when he lacks all control over his life. Cave tells him that, without exception, we will never be in control, but that does not mean we are powerless. We can choose the “great act of insubordination towards the vagaries of life.” Mutiny against the vagaries of existence. Exactly what can be heard in Nick Cave's music.
THIS MUCH I KNOW TO BE TRUE
UK, dir.: Andrew Dominik, act.: Nick Cave, Waren Ellis