Film review - Leviathan

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green marvels at the astonishing imagery contained in Lucian Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's visually breathtaking documentary Leviathan.

LeviathanA document with a difference is how you could describe the expressionistic, visually breathtaking Leviathan (ICA Cinema and Curzons Soho and Wimbledon and other selected cinemas) in that it dispenses with a conventional narrator but is no less fascinating for it.

The film, which unfolds aboard a fishing trawler off the eastern seaboard of the US, is the product of Harvard University’s Lucian Castaing-Taylor. Together with Verena Paravel they have created an immersive film that details the arduous work of a crew of fishermen and the vast expanse of life that exists beneath them.

The movie opens in extreme close-up on a fisherman as he helps winch an immense net on to the ship. Unloaded and writing frantically on deck, the fish are packed into frozen containers. The deck is then cleaned with the discarded remains of each catch returned to the sea and the crew prepare the net for the next trawl.

On one level Leviathan resembles John Grierson’s  1929 documentary Drifters about North Sea herring fishermen. The films’ cameras are at the heart of the action, working alongside the crew rather than observing them. The rhythm of both films appears to more with the sea currents. However technology has allowed Casting-Taylor and Paravel to go further both in sound and vision.

Employing dozens of cameras attached to the ship, the fishermen and the fishing equipment (there’s even one in the crew’s shoulder cubicle), the filmmakers’ offer is a sense of what it is like to be at sea. The layers of sound add to this, from the raging seas to the ship’s engine and various machine running on deck, all adding to the sense of a chaotic world. There is no single message here about the environment, the depletion of fishing stocks or the economic hardship faced by small fishing crews.

Astonishing images pass quickly before our eyes. One camera descends below the waves, just as a catch is being hauled out of the water. As the net breaks the water’s surface, the camera witnesses starfish struggling free and disappearing into the blackness of the sea.

The immensity of this rough, tough, unforgiving world-one of great beauty, yet fraught with danger – is humbling. A riveting experience!

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