This Much I Know To Be True shows Nick Cave live and unchained

Andrew Dominik films Nick Cave and Warren Ellis performing their songs of mournful euphoria in the wake of Cave’s loss and despair.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in This Much I Know To Be True (2021)

► This Much I Know To Be True is in select UK cinemas 11-15 May.

The resounding takeaway from Andrew Dominik’s 2016 documentary One More Time with Feeling was that its excavation of grief (Nick Cave and his wife Susie Bick lost their 15-year-old son Arthur the year before) and the catastrophic toll on emotional and creative survival was a full stop. As Cave talked, first evasively, then frankly, about this destabilising trauma, and his band the Bad Seeds performed the songs of loss, longing and guilt from the subsequent album Skeleton Tree, all rendered in lustrous black-and-white 3D, the film’s intimacy and intensity was near-overwhelming. Where – and how – would he, or anyone involved in this project, go on from here?

There’s an answer of sorts in this moving, liberating companion piece – more performance film than confessional, Cave, as ever (see also: the 2014 constructed reality feature 20,000 Days on Earth), blurring those lines artfully. Dominik tackles the family’s declared decision to choose happiness as “an act of revenge… defiance” alongside Cave’s counterbalancing admission that time is “elastic”; that he can seem to move forward but will always be snapped back to that terrible tragedy. The songs showcased by Cave and longtime musical compadre Warren Ellis from their most recent two albums, the Bad Seeds’ 2019 Ghosteen and the duo’s 2021 Carnage, reflect this mournful euphoria.

In contrast to the floating, monochrome 3D visuals of One More Time…, cinematographer Robbie Ryan regularly enfolds the action with two cameras on circular dolly tracks inside the cavernous ballroom location. Other musicians and backing singers come and go, in bracing daylight, shafts of spotlight, or a cascade of golden shimmers. That the cameras, lights, crew and the ever-probing Dominik often remain in shot feels of a piece with Cave’s own deconstruction of his art and himself.

In interviews between songs, he professes a new urge to define himself not as musician but rather “husband… father… citizen”. This chimes with the honesty of his ask-me-anything Red Hand Files online forum. Cave’s thoughtful, consoling responses to fans’ often desperate, soul-searching entreaties – for him, “almost a spiritual practice” – have been revelatory.

In case all this seems too sombre, flashes of humour, from a buoyant Marianne Faithfull cameo to Cave’s wry dig at Ellis “usurping” (ie, outlasting) former Bad Seeds members, offer welcome relief. And while acknowledging his new-found directions, Dominik fully manifests the power of Cave’s musicianship, the singer/artist standing arms aloft, eyes closed in communion with the living, breathing dark majesty of his muse. It’s some encore.

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