Leviathan (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/11/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 87 mins

Composed entirely of stunning images and impressive sound design work, Leviathan is an extraordinary experience that's visceral, immersive and unlike anything else you'll see this year.

What's it all about?
Co-directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, Leviathan is an experimental documentary that follows a fishing trawler in the North Atlantic. The film consists of a series of shots from a variety of different perspectives, focussing largely on the physical tasks performed by the fishermen and the machinery of the boat itself, but occasionally venturing over the side, with the camera alternately disappearing underwater and retaining a fascination with the ever-present flock of seagulls that follows the vessel.

The Good
Needless to say, there's no narrative in the traditional sense – indeed, quite often the images are disorienting and you can't even tell what you're looking at. That said, the film is an extraordinarily immersive experience, thanks in no small part to some incredible sound design work, with every creak and groan of the ship making it sound like the Biblical creature referred to in the title.

Once you adjust to way the entire film is going to play out, the experience becomes utterly fascinating as a succession of astonishing images and sequences unfold. Highlights include: a sequence following a lone seagull as it hops about the boat pecking at fish guts; oilskin-clad fishermen violently hacking away at their catch, causing the hull to fill with ghostly-looking disembodied fish heads; monstrous images of the caught, staring fish, including a giant one that's liable to give you nightmares; blood and fish guts pouring from the side of the boat; the catch spilling out onto the decks as the nets are opened; and the film's coup de grace, an breathtakingly beautiful sequence shot from underneath the flock of seagulls following the boat, with the camera occasionally dipping underwater.

The Great
The film's treatment of the fishermen themselves is equally intriguing – it's at least twenty minutes before you even see a face and even then, it's a face with a weary look that says 'Why on earth are you filming this?' Similarly, there's no dialogue (although they do occasionally shout unintelligible things to each other), though the filmmakers do eventually single out one fisherman in particular, observing him falling asleep whilst watching television (amusingly, he appears to be watching a documentary about fishermen), lingering over his detailed tattoo of a naked mermaid and even following him into the shower for what must be the year's most gratuitous shower scene.

Worth seeing?
While admittedly not for the arthouse-averse, Leviathan is a superbly made documentary that's well worth seeking out. An unforgettable experience.

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Content updated: 24/10/2017 01:21

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