Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
The theatre sinks into darkness and we find ourselves aboard a fishing boat in the middle of the ocean. We don’t know where we came from. We don’t know where we are going. We don’t know what is going on at all. But none of this really matters. Before we can even start addressing these questions, we are already hypnotized by the kaleidoscope of intriguing images rolling around on the screen. We are like the travellers of the olden days venturing the unknown. We are headed for places we will never reach; we are returning to places we have never seen. No context, no words. Just a cacophony of colour and sound.
We learn to observe patiently the slow, horrific, yet the magnificent tide of life and death. We breathe down the lonely fishermen’s necks and surreptitiously stare at the exhausted sailors battling with fatigue. We are a ship cutting through the waves. The next moment we are a flock of seagulls embracing the freedom of the sky. Suddenly we are catching for our final breath through our gills. As we finally, sunken deep into the sea, watch from a distance how starfish and the fishing throw-aways travel past us like asteroids on a purple Milky Way, it becomes clear. We have embarked on a quite unusual film odyssey.
The innovative experimental documentary, or better, the erudite ethnographic study of the man-sea relationship, has been mothered by an English-French director duo. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel are two anthropologists and artists who are breaking the boundaries between the visually artistic, the documentaristic and the anthropologic. The film, seemingly existing in an array of impossible spaces, was shot with an arsenal of small cameras, either fixed on fishermen, dead fish, piers, sails, ship hull, birds, or simply thrown in the sea. Literally scattered everywhere, the cameras’ gaze is completely disoriented, but uniquely plural at the same time.
It could be said that the film is a scientific study of gaze, with which the directors tried to create a different, more humble depiction of our civilization. Distinct from other documentaries whose sole perspective is the gaze of people, Leviathan focusses equally on the perspective of the fisherman and their catch. The stance of equality is rounded up in the film credits which contain the Latin names of all the creatures that are found in the film.
When thinking of contextualizing Leviathan in the framework of film art, Stan Brakhage, Werner Herzog and David Lynch come to mind. But any classical comparisons quickly disappear in the gullet of the ancient sea monster. Leviathan is a film-shock to the system. A pure, intense, adrenaline-fuelled audio-visual adventure for the whole body. It shows us the world; our world, but completely unrecognisable. It shows us the world in a way we have never seen it before. Leviathan pulls the rug from under our feet. Our spatial and temporal orientation vanishes. We feel like we are in a miniature papier-mâché boat in the middle of an enormous, angry ocean and the sheer magnitude of nature is making us dizzy.