Leviathan - DVD Review

'It's not that Leviathan is wanting for imagery willing to work at lulling you, as much as it is that there's no substance behind the lullaby.'

There are moments in Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's Leviathan where you can't see anything. I am all for invention, all for people experimenting on film, but I am not sure I need anyone to test whether, even with the advent of digital, light is still needed to produce photography. Still, for anyone wondering, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel have answered the question: shooting film without light results in a pitch black screen.

Leviathan's champions will tell you that, actually, the picture is only half of this film's equation and, at least philosophically, I would agree with them. An abstract documentary to rule all abstract documentaries, the duo's film places cameras in various areas of a New England fishing vessel and then watches - sometimes in awe, sometimes in Horror, sometimes with boredom - as events unfold. Fish heads slop around the deck, we hear a camera presumably attached to the bow sloshing in and out of clanking, industrial waves; in a memorably casual scene, fish are grabbed with a hook and hacked in half with a very un-subtle knife.

There's some quite striking stuff here. The sheer exhaustion on the face of a sailor as he seems to fall asleep with the TV on (is he, rather cheekily, watching a more populist show about fishing?), the work required to haul nets of catch in, the hypnotism of shelling sea food. It's not that Leviathan is wanting for imagery willing to work at lulling you, as much as it is that there's no substance behind the lullaby.

Because, ultimately, Leviathan's refusal to tell you, even to hint to you, exactly why it is here and what the hell it means by showing you all of these fish guts, is its downfall. The final credits seem to hint that it is some sort of dedication to the brave fishermen of New England and their vessels, but if this is the case then where are they? They hardly get to speak. In some cases, I'm not even sure we see a face.

Scenes of fish guts, blood and various other detritus being kicked or slopped overboard - as well as the aforementioned meeting with the knife - make you wonder if this is an anti-fishing tale of some sort, but that doesn't tie with the apparent celebration of the men who do the work. I didn't feel like the collection of images here was enough to claim Leviathan as a 'documentary'; what is its story and why is it telling it to us, especially in this way? You're left without answers.

There is a school of thought on Leviathan which reckons that it is a 'more real' version of Deadliest Catch. This is patently ridiculous. Both are highly stylised, highly edited versions of the 'truth' of life and death at sea and, though I can admire some of the invention in this effort, I know which production I'd rather be watching and I know which one would at least be able to show me a clear picture.

Leviathan is released on UK DVD on Monday 9th December.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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