In Giraffe, an ethnologist is tasked with inventorying an abandoned cottage in the Danish countryside: books, photos, journals. Who was the solitary woman who once lived there, writing about her projects, her lovers and the changing seasons? The questions seem to lead the researcher, Dara (Lisa Loven Kongsli), to her own musings: What makes up a life? And what could or should her own life be?
The director of this pensive, insightful film, Anna Sofie Hartmann, doesn’t set up scenes in a manner as pointed as these queries. Instead, we observe Dara — commuting by ferry, interviewing an older couple displaced by tunnel construction, chatting up a cute Polish road worker (Jakub Gierszal). Dara likes her work, in sunlit surroundings that have the crisply vivid colors of a photorealist oil painting, but something is shifting within her.
Dara gets involved with the young Pole, and on the cusp of 40, she grows ambivalent about her partner back in Berlin (whom she visits, with a sense of detachment). But the movie also sits in with some middle-aged road workers and their travails. And Dara has a friend on the ferry, who speculates on the inner lives of passengers.
It’s an essayistic approach to drama, which it’s fair to identify as a subgenre of 21st-century art film: picturesque movies about displacement and drift that eschew traditional narrative drive. At one point, Dara quotes from Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” and it’s a useful touchstone. Hartmann is reflecting on how we find and lose ourselves amid life’s changing paths and many models for living.