Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel, 2013)
A purely experimental film, Leviathan is both disorienting and thought provoking. Directing duo Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel sharpened their collective editing teeth with this profound documentary on the daily operations of a select group of commercial fishermen. Without commentary, voice-over, interview or otherwise we are left with repeating shots of a boat, the indiscriminant men on board clad in fluorescent orange and black slickers, hoards of netted fish and their inevitable mutilation for sale, gulls in the sky and starfish as angels under the water. The film evokes visceral reaction and philosophical reflection, but the mood is decidedly dark – a skillfully controlled examination and open conversation of man versus nature.
Leviathan makes no clear political statement. But the inherent morbidity in watching the methodical capture and killing of countless fish is obvious before our eyes. What apparently has to happen in order to enjoy a batch of fish sticks is morally upsetting – as is seeing the beaten men charged with the task. Long stretches of time are devoted to each shot. We watch with helpless eyes as nets filled with doomed fish dangle and unload for ten minutes without interruption. The soundtrack is the creaking clinks and clanks of the ship, the merciless wind, and the inaudible growls and roars of the men at work. We also hear the seagulls as they float above the ship in the night, following the floating buffet like vultures. It is poetic imagery, rhyme and reason sometimes undetectable, but visually hypnotic. As a camera is repeatedly dunked below the water we’re witness to an underwater ballet – floating starfish undisturbed.
Leviathan seems more interested in the mechanical nature of the fishing business juxtaposed against the elegiac beauty of sea life dismantled. The fishermen are characters, too. A long shot holds on a man’s eye. His skin is so wrinkled and tired it becomes as disturbing as the dead fish covering the deck. The eye itself is hollow of hope – perhaps as resigned to his fate as the fish he catches. Leviathan creates a new lens with which to view humanity and its resignedly abusive relationship with nature.
Cinema verite style documentary, and all of its off-shooting styles, is cited to reveal certain truths about the subject – the camera as innocent as a fly on the wall. But often in documentary of any kind the addition of dialogue spins and cements unavoidable narrative. It isn’t necessarily revealing a truth as much as directing the audience towards one. What Leviathan does, while crafting a brooding mood, is step out of the way enough to let the audience have some freedom of thought. What is fostered is an affecting ninety-minutes. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel do direct the audience as they direct the film, but its cryptic configuration opens a more engaging path for conversation. Not for a general audience, those willing to watch and listen need no words to understand Leviathan’s power.
See It? Your Call (But Yes)
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