Film Reviews

Max Richter’s Sleep review: Dir. Natalie Johns (2020)

“Music is my vehicle for travelling through the world, getting through life…” – Max Richter

If you’re an admirer of contemporary art and music, or love the likes of TATE Modern or progression within classical music, where you appreciate that it can develop into something new, offering the listener an expansive and renewed perspective, then Max Richter’s Sleep is certainly for you. I first heard Richter’s work back in 2006, with the release of second album The Blue Notebooks, it was one of my early music magazine reviews, and at the time gave me a welcome surprise, and I’ve had a genuine affection for his work ever since.

However, the truth is, I’ve only learned of his Sleep project when documentary distributor Dogwoof announced the film was coming to UK cinemas on 11th September. With a spark and surge of intrigue, I delved into the history behind it and was immediately engaged, in fact, I wish I’d been able to attend one of these fascinating events that seem to uniquely entwine the essence of contemporary artwork and the science of sleep.

Directed by Natalie Johns, Max Richter’s Sleep is a compelling insight into the composer and musician Richter, as well as the collaboration that developed with his creative partner and wife, Yulia Mahr, herself an artist and BAFTA award-winning filmmaker. As well as the overall emphasis being the ambitious live performance of his 8-hour composition SLEEP, that runs through the night to live audiences in Los Angeles, Berlin, Sydney, London and Paris, it’s also a delve into their personal lives, how they met, what they wanted from their work alongside their philosophies and thoughts on the creative process, and it’s fused together with archive footage from their lives.

Sleep contains an array of vivid quotes and musings from Max and Yulia, it’s very much celebrating the possibility of all contemporary art, how music and sleep are profoundly connected at a genuine human, psychological level. They also discuss neuroscience, frequency spectrums, the Fibonacci sequences and how music, maths – and life itself – is intrinsically linked, and how Max’s compositions and this live events attempts to investigate these theories to their fullest and, let it be said, these moments are fascinating.

Johns also spends time speaking to select people who have attended the live shows, to see why they’ve come along, and what they hoped to find by being involving. She weaves in sections of those stories throughout the film, drifting effortlessly between the audience’s personal reflections and the couple. This is important, because Max himself comments that ‘the people sleeping are the story’, and reveals that when he takes a brief break through the night, he often sits or walks around the sleeping strangers, to breath in the art piece, and experience the situation.

Much like the 8-hour opus this is based around, and as a piece of filmmaking, Max Richter’s Sleep is reflective, encompassing and deeply intriguing. The couple offer us a welcoming calmness to their lives but there’s no doubt of their commitment to the art and making sure it’s as right as it can before it’s out there in the world. It makes you consider time, which is even more captivating when you add in the context of this year. Like the piece ‘Sleep’ itself, it encourages you to switch off from the now, explore the blues, greens of the cinematography and delve in to explore the dreams in-between.

Relaxing, reflective and compassionate, and while there’s always a hint of melancholic, it remains deeply hopeful, which makes this an extremely rewarding film experience.

Max Richter’s Sleep was released in UK cinemas in September and comes to Blu-ray and DVD on 12th October:

One thought on “Max Richter’s Sleep review: Dir. Natalie Johns (2020)

  1. Pingback: Win a copy of Max Richter’s Sleep on Blu-ray! | critical popcorn

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