Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Those on both sides of the Atlantic have perhaps become familiar with the trawlermen who plough the depths of the ocean in order to satisfy our appetites through a variety of reality television shows. None, however, has quite captured the experience in such mesmerising detail as Leviathan.

A documentary without narration, talking heads or a traditional sense of narrative progression, Leviathan is, at times, a challenging experience. That said, it is also terrifyingly hypnotic and far more immersive than any crash-bang 3D Hollywood spectacle.

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The camera captures the experience of fishing in the wilderness of the north Atlantic in minute detail. At times it appears to be strapped to the fisherman; at others it is plunged into the sea along with the chains holding together the nets. At still other times, the footage is so startling it’s difficult to understand how it was captured.

A bird lands on the ship, trying desperately to clamber up and over the pen holding the fish. The camera is mere centimetres from the bird, its beak and its cold dead eyes, its webbed feet and flapping tail all captured in captivating close up. While it is tempting to think that this could've been captured with a long-length zoom lens, the hand-held nature of the shot and the camera’s ability to follow the bird make this unlikely and spell-binding.

Perhaps even more absorbing is the footage of the fish after the trawlermen have caught them. The camera lolls about in the pen with the fish. Flailing fins and large, lifeless black eyes along with gaping mouths replete with razor sharp rows of teeth - one almost longs for Werner Herzog to appear on voice over to provide, unusually, some sense of comfort to the proceedings.

However, any voice over narration would take away from the incredible sound design of the film. The cantankerous churning and clanking of the ship; the violent rush of the ocean in wave after uncaring wave; the squawking and flapping of the seagulls which follow the ship like vultures in the desert.

All are recorded, overlaid and synchronised with great care and attention, to often frightening effect. As the gulls rush overhead and the camera dips in and out of that aggressive ocean under the dark eye of an ambivalent God we can’t help but feel like Tippi Hedren under the dark gaze of that ambivalent God of the cinema.

And this is Leviathan’s great triumph. Despite having no plot or characters to engage its audience with, it manages to dazzle us with its understanding and representation of man’s eternal struggle with the elemental forces of nature. An awe-inspiring experience.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2013
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A documentary shot in the North Atlantic and focused on the commercial fishing industry.
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Director: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel

Writer: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel

Starring: Declan Conneely, Johnny Gatcombe, Adrian Guillette, Brian Jannelle, Clyde Lee, Arthur Smith, Christopher Swampstead

Year: 2012

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France, UK, US

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