Not much is spoken in the documentary Leviathan and not much really needs to be. Quite similarly, not much really needs to be said about the film from directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Parowel. It’s a marvel of sight and sound told in the most observational and chilling first person ways possible.
Manoeuvring around the deck of a fishing vessel off the coast of Massachusetts, Parowel and Taylor get quite literally to the lifeblood of the industry. No one talks about what they do. No talking heads. No frame of reference outside of raw, gritty, bloody, and grimy observational footage that shows just how artistically close filmmakers can get to any given situation thanks to new technology.
It’s most assuredly not a film for the squeamish, easily sea sick, or those who are actively looking for a point or meaning to the images to be explained to them. Those looking for a defence of the industry through the beauty of the images and those wanting there to be an indictment of wasteful and potentially fishing practices will be similarly confounded, but both could credibly find ways to create arguments either way. There’s no plot and no positioning. There is no sound other than the diagetic. It’s existence as it sometimes gets taken for granted: as just simply being.
And oh what images are captured through the use of some incredibly stealthy and ingeniously placed cameras. The almost always off kilter, first person sensory experience dips above and below the surface of the water with dexterity and chilling results. Cold rushes of water bob over the audience’s heads to reveal schools of gulls streaking across the sky. The bloody chum on the deck and poured into the sea sometimes putrifies the salty ocean air that’s so close you can almost smell it. Darker moments are purposefully disorienting to the point where it’s impossible to tell if the viewer is on the deck, in the drink, or in the belly of the beast itself. Extreme close-ups of the wrinkled, hardened faces of skippers look like virtual maps of the seas they toil on.
And it all works so splendidly because this is that lifestyle and that daily reality. Casual viewers and the less artistically inclined will surely balk at this because it can easily be dismissed as being “more art than cinema.” But with cinema being an artform unto itself, it proves the perfect medium for an excellent piece of art where the screen is the canvas and the sea and everything it swallows as the brushes and paints.
Directed by: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Parowel