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Sunday, 12 May 2013 13:24

'Leviathan' sinks as a rewarding film experience

'Leviathan' sinks as a rewarding film experience montrealgazette.com
Written by Diane Carson
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  • Director: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel
  • Dates: May 17-19, 2013

For avant-garde film fans, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's experimental documentary "Leviathan" will amaze and delight. For those who want at least a bare bones narrative or some guided insight, "Leviathan" will become an exercise in tedium before its 87 minutes have concluded. Count me in the latter category for this effort.

Taking its title from passages in the book of Job, practically indecipherable text introduces this idea. Set aboard a fishing trawler that works out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, "Leviathan" then spends its first half hour dominated by darkness punctuated with streaks of color, mechanical ship noises, a few unintelligible directions, swirling water and long takes. It's difficult to figure out what is happening though grinding cables, the suggestion of nets, and a railing provide some orientation. This purposeful framing takes advantage of unusual camera placements with vertiginous angles.

Captured in high definition digital format, the images have been color manipulated to communicate a surreal, uncommon world. The creators of this film push that idea with underwater shots of starfish in stark relief against blue waves, bloody decks littered with fish heads, and an impressionistic, beautiful shot of seagulls. Multiple small cameras give unprecedented, skewed perspectives.

Periodically, tough-looking men writing an essay appear, working hard in dangerous jobs--unloading nets heavy with fish, cutting sea rays in half, gutting the catch, etc. It seems tattoos and cigarettes are required props. One man sits at a table watching a television heard but not shown and slowly falls asleep in a lengthy take. I started feeling the same way as the sounds and images accumulated ad nauseam.

Never does anyone explicitly note that this industrial fishing destroys the ocean floor and wastes a great deal of its catch. Fair enough--this isn't the intent here, but the experimental "Leviathan" left me cold and disappointed. Its St. Louis premiere is at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 17th through Sunday, May 19th. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or on the web: Webster.edu/filmseries.

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