Leviathan – The Fish, the Slaughter, the Captain


Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel 2012
NYFF50: Main Slate
Venue: Alice Tully Hall
Sat, Oct 13

With: Brian Jannelle, Adrian Guillette, Arthur Smith, Asterias vulgaris, Callinectes sapidus, Christopher Swampstead, Cleona celata, Clyde Lee, Declan Conneely, Fulmaris glacialis, Gadus morhua, Hippoglossus hippoglossus, Homarus americanus, Johnny Gatcombe, Larus marinus, Larus argentatus smithonianus

Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel (Foreign Parts) – artist-filmmakers from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnographic Lab – team up for a “visually and sonically explosive” excavation of the world’s most dangerous profession: the commercial fishing industry. Possibly the boldest film of the year, Leviathan gives the lie to the phrase “immersive cinema.”

The first half-hour, we have no idea what we’re looking at, our surest point of reference in the darkness is the soundscape by Ernst Karel.

Clang of metal. Spots of color. High seas. Snaking cords. Unbelievable racket. We’re underwater in an alien environment. An assault.

Visibility improves as we find ourselves in a fish hold. The fish don’t look so good. Some are exploded. Eyes bulging. Men cull them, gutting the best. Bloody work. One man lights cigarettes for all to keep hands at work. Brutally hard work. Unceasing racket. Despite long takes, we can never understand the actual tedium. Do they think about us eating seafood in restaurants?

The camera is pelted by fish, and finally buried under them. The ship vomits blood and guts into ocean. A feast for carrion birds.

Drowning camera comes up for air into abstract, terrifying beauty. Sky and sea are indistinguishable. A green-hulled ship breaking the waves.

Leviathan was filmed on six trips, each lasting a couple of weeks. The team lost their main camera at sea, replaced with about a dozen small GoPro cameras, which record light with an abstract, surreal beauty, and allow shared authorship with fishermen and nature. A new way of thinking and moving through space. Recorded sounds through the cameras are almost organic, like they are gasping for air.

In the seas where Melville’s Pequod gave chase to Moby-Dick, Leviathan documents the end of the binary documentary relationship – us and them – and a new distribution of the authorial process.

The fish. The slaughter. The captain.

You just have to go through it.

“Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? Or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Canst thou put an hook into his nose? Or bore his jaw through with a thorn? Will he make many supplications unto thee? Will he speak soft words unto thee? Will he make a covenant with thee? Wilt thou take him for a servant for ever? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens? Shall the companions make a banquet of him? Shall they part him among the merchants? Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? Or his head with fish spears? Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more. Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me? Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine. I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion. Who can discover the face of his garment? Or who can come to him with his double bridle? Who can open the doors of his face? His teeth are terrible round about. His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. One is so near to another, that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered. By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him. The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved. His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone. When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves. The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear. Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire. He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment. He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary. Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.”

Job 41 (King James Version)

NYFF: http://www.filmlinc.com/nyff2012/films/leviathan
IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2332522/

Update: US Distributor – Cinema Guild (2013)