Monday, 23 December 2013

Leviathan (2012)

 Leviathan is a documentary film unlike many you'll see. There is no narration, no interviews or dialogue, no soundtrack and no text on screen. What you get is just 90 minutes of raw footage from a New England dragnet ship. Leviathan is a film that invites you to feel rather than think.

Born from the brains of two anthropologists, this art film come documentary was created by people who aren't fans of normal documentaries. Lucien Castaing-Taylor, who partnered with Verena Paravel to produce Leviathan, has said in the past how much he hates "being told what to think about something, I feel that I want to resist the authority of [a] documentarian" and as such set out to create something that doesn't tell you anything, it just shows you and lets you decide how you feel about that.

Castaing Taylor has said "Documentary claims to have this privileged purchase on a truthful version of reality but most documentaries' representation of the real is so attenuated and so discourse-based and language-based. We lie and we mystify ourselves with words. Words can only take us so far." So how do you get around the lies of language? Don't use it.

There isn't a word uttered in the entirety of Leviathan, at least not an intelligible one that matters. There are some shouts and grunts from the fisherman but they could be in any language and mean anything. It's not surprising that these film makers are anthropologists by trade; Leviathan comes off largely like a documentary about fisherman as if they were just another part of the environment, as if the filmakers were looking at humanity's role here from an outsider's persective.

The men and the ship themselves do just become part of the seascape on the same level as everything else. The hazy and trippy approach taken by Castaing-Taylor and Paravel paints a very primal picture. There are extremely long shots, often of things than many would deem pointless, taken from strange angles and focussing on unusual things. Leviathan is almost a gallery exhibition. There isn't a narrative thread running through the documentary. It's just a collection of striking images that are open to interpretation from the viewer.

And what striking images they are. Brtual and apocalyptic. A tale of blood and salt, bright lights and the black abyss; Leviathan is full of visceral and frenetic visuals. Cameras were strapped to anything that they could be: the boat, the nets, poles to be held overboard and even the fishermen themselves. Often shot from floor level or from below the waves, Leviathan could be seen, at times, to be a documentary on fishing through a fish eye lens.

The rivers of blood from beheading and gutting the fish, the churning black waves with white foam, the floodlights, the screeching gulls and the roars and crashes of the sea create a portrait of sound and fury on the water that will stay with any viewer for a long time, whether they enjoy the experience or not.

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