Monday, February 25, 2013

Get ready to shake, rattle and roll: Castaing-Taylor and Paravel's LEVIATHAN

OK. TrustMovies admits that experimental cinema is often not his cup of tea. But he tries to see some of it, occasionally, just to keep alert to the new. Once in awhile -- as with Denis Côté's recent Bestiaire, or a few years back, Il Divo, in which the Paolo Sorrentino under-stood just how experimental he could be and still create an actual movie -- the result can be shocking and ravishing and unique. In LEVIATHAN, the new and quite experimental documentary from Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (shown below, with Ms Paravel on the left), the result is a near-non-stop "assault on the senses," as my screening companion put it.

As usual, I found some interesting moments along the way, and some zowie film tech-niques that, even as I write this, are likely already being incorpor-ated into more main-stream movies, probably those of the horror genre. (Like Psycho, this film has its own shower sequence: see below) Well, terrific, for this is where I think experimental film proves most useful. When viewed on its own as a single entity, for me at least, it tends to be repetitive and tiresome. Yet bits and pieces of what it discovers will find their way into other movies and will be used in a manner that can be understood and appreciated by us doltish masses (some of us, anyway), thus furthering the art of the motion picture.

That said, Leviathan is one of the most unremittingly grueling experiences, visually and aurally, that I’ve ever had in a movie theater seat. So much so, it became a badge of honor not to leave that seat for any reason: not to use the bathroom, not to seek the solace of the noisy Manhattan streets outside, not to do anything but just sit there and drink it in until those final credits rolled (which were rather difficult to read; someone could have chosen a clearer typeface). But I did it – and I am proud!

The film takes place on a large fishing vessel in the North Atlantic, where we see a "catch" being made, though it takes a long time to even know where we are or what is going on. Slowly (very) and noisily (very, very) things are revealed. The filmmakers' style is to put us so very up-close-and-personal to the crew, the machinery, the fish and all else that we almost feel like a cog in the machine.

There is almost no intelligible dialog, either, only a man or two mumbling now and again. Instead there are crashes (of the waves, and the machines), clunks (as the huge net of fish bangs back and forth), and other ambient sounds -- but more loudly than you will have heard them previously.

Yet I question the filmmakers’ choice of shooting methods – deliberately refusing to pull the camera back to give us a stronger sense of where we are. They do pull back occasionally (see those birds, below) but not nearly often enough. I understand that part of the point is to confuse us and make us feel vulnerable and frightened, like those poor fish (it'll be awhile before you want to dine off ocean life again). But enough, already.

It takes only a very short time to achieve this in-the-middle-of-it-all effect, yet the filmmakers go on and on. There is about 40 minutes of content here -- if that -- stretched to double time. And then they bore us to distraction with an interminable shot of Mr. Tatoo in the ship's galley. Sure, we're getting one of those long shots we've been craving, but to no purpose that I can ascertain. (Still, I hope that Hellman’s mayonnaise product-placement on the dining table netted them enough money to make their next movie.)

Leviathan, an endurance test of major proportions, makes Castaing-Taylor's earlier bleating-sheep-and-depressed-cowboys documen-tary, Sweetgrass, seem like a James Bond adventure. The movie, from Cinema Guild and running 87 minutes, opens this Friday, March 1, in New York City at the IFC Center. The exclusive Los Angeles engagement of the film begins Friday, May 10th at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters shown.

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