Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Leviathan (2012, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel)

Every now and then comes a film that changes the way we think of cinema or even the world. Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel’s Leviathan is such a film because it forces the viewer to experience the world in a new light. The fluid immersive style that Leviathan employs jolts one’s senses thereby allowing one to have a heightened awareness of nature’s beauty and even horror. The reason the senses of the audience are awakened is largely due to the multiple cameras the directors use which gives a different perspective of the surroundings. Then the various perspectives transition in such a smooth manner that it is hard to tell where the edits are. Instead, it appears that a single camera is omnipresent and taking the viewers on a dizzying ride.

Leviathan is also a film where the description does not even come close to describing the finished product. The following is the imdb summary: 

A documentary shot in the North Atlantic and focused on the commercial fishing industry.

But this is no ordinary documentary where a camera passively watches events unfold. Instead, the directors use multiple cameras which are attached to the fishermen, to the ship and even on the nets. Therefore, when a net is flung into the deep dark water, the camera gives us a perspective from underneath the water, looking at the birds flying in the sky above. When the net is hauled back, we see the fish face to face lying on the deck, looking into their eyes. With a quick shift, we see the fishermen at work, slicing the fish, before the camera goes zipping off again. The cameras are never at rest, moving constantly as there is work to be done on the fishing vessel. As a result, a viewer is knocked off their balance constantly and have to readjust to get a bearing on the surroundings. For example, near the start of the film, we see the birds up in the air from the water but near the end, the camera is looking down on the birds and the ocean looks like the sky instead.

The camera finally lets the audience catch their breath just after the hour mark as the fishermen are tired after a long day and relax in front of the tv, trying to fight sleep. In these few minutes, the camera is static and the film finally looks like a traditional documentary. But that restful moment does not last long and the camera plunges into darkness again.

Darkness is constantly present as the film starts and ends with it. But light filters in small dosages, creating a mesmerizing effect, as the viewer is forced to decipher what they are seeing before their eyes. For example, the following image looks like a figure surfing on the giant wave. Instead, it is the ship seen from a distance.

The presence of darkness plus images of the blood and slicing sounds also make Leviathan feel like a horror film. The constantly shifting perspective adds uncertainty and contributes to the feeling of the unknown as well, raising some fear and tension. Leviathan also manages to realize M.C Escher’s Sky and Water paintings in a remarkable manner. The light and dark shades from the painting are depicted at different points in the film with similar shots of the birds in both day and night time. We also see the birds flying down into the water to eat the left over portions of the fishes, thereby fusing Escher’s images.


Sam Juliano said...

This titanic piece begs for a reviewing of the film. Don't think I appreciated it as much as you, but that doesn't mean I won't at some point have a re-assessment. Really great writing here Sachin!

Sachin said...

Thanks for your support on these pieces Sam. It is great to see your kind words even for films you may not have enjoyed as much. It certainly has gotten as many negative reviews as positive ones so the film has split many people quite a bit.