It’s rare that a trip to the cinema leaves you reeling from the impact of what’s just happened but that’s exactly the effect of Leviathan. It dropkicks the popcorn out of your hands, smashes your mobile phone to the floor and throws a bucket of ice-cold sea water all over you for good measure. This isn’t a film. It’s an experience.
The premise: a documentary following a commercial fishing vessel and her crew off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA. The reality is something altogether otherworldly. This is an hour and a half of dialogue-free avant-garde filmmaking flowing seemingly without restriction as this hunk of metal rocks from port to starboard in the dark open waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
To say it’s a silent movie would be wrong though, very wrong. After smashing you in the face for not being ready for it, Leviathan crashes into your ears with its mesmeric sound. The sea explodes, the gulls swoop and the fish die in the loud impactive soundscape created beautifully by directors, producers and editors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel.
The point-of-view moves freely between camera crew and fishermen, plunging into the water and then back out on deck again and it’s never clear exactly how or who is filming what you’re seeing. The sustained commitment to some of the shots is astounding, at times feeling endless, lulling the audience into a false sense of security, that you know what’s going on. You don’t. This is art, moving art, and it’s relentless.
Playing with perspective, it becomes unclear, even, which way is up or down as you’re left simultaneously wanting a moment to end and also bathing in its raw wonder. Whether the film’s title refers to the vessel, the ocean or Mother Nature herself, or all of the above rolled into one, the message is potent. Despite Man’s best endeavours, we exist at the mercy of nature.
This isn’t for the faint-hearted. Not just for the fish guts and summary decapitations but because it’s a full-blooded assault on the senses. Some people become physically uncomfortable, squirming in their seats; so much does the film wash over you, coming in waves, some even fall asleep. As with all art, though, it’s entirely up to the individual how they react. My suggestion: sit back, open your eyes and ears and hold onto your seat for this is one of the most challenging and visceral cinema experiences you will have in 2013. Maybe ever.
first published on filmjuice.com