EIFF film review: Leviathan

A scene from the documentary Leviathan. Picture: Contributed
A scene from the documentary Leviathan. Picture: Contributed
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ALL the hot air spouted by Hollywood regarding the immersive quality of 3D counts for zip when compared to the sensorial effects this experimental documentary achieves.


Edinburgh International Film Festival - Cineworld, Edinburgh

* * * *

Depicting the inner workings of a fishing trawler, Leviathan uses footage from multiple, strategically placed digital cameras to plunge us into a microcosm of chaos and disharmony that reflects the frequently uneasy relationship between nature and commerce.

For close to 90 minutes it batters us with astonishing point-of-view shots captured on cameras attached to everything from the hardy crew members working the nets, to the deck where the catch is unceremoniously dumped, to the bow of the ship as crashing waves submerge it. There’s no narration; nor are there interviews with the crew or establishing shots of the vessel to provide context. Instead, the partial glimpses we’re given of different parts of the process combine with a similarly disorientating cacophony of sounds – snatched conversations, grinding machinery, stormy weather – to intensify the strangeness of what’s unfurling.

Thus, sea-soaked machine parts glistening in the half-light of the trawler’s deck lamps suddenly resemble something HR Giger might have designed for the Alien movies, while odd-angled close-ups of seagulls dive-bombing the sea for scraps of discarded fish have a similar horror movie quality. Indeed, there’s nothing romantic about this vision of the fishing industry. The work of British filmmaker Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and his frequent collaborator Véréna Paravel, it is an abstract film that seeks to reconnect us to the harsh realities involved in securing something as seemingly simple as a plate of fish for the dinner table. That it largely succeeds is a testament to their ability to put us in the moment, as difficult as that moment can be to endure.

• Cineworld, today, 8:40pm and 29 June, 2:40pm