Mussels In Love

Mussels In Love


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Willemiek Kluijfhout prises open the secrets of the titular mollusc in this engaging, if sometimes scattergun, documentary, which opened the Berlinale Culinary Cinema segment this week.

Covering everything from the way that mussels procreate to questions of conservation and the fact that the shellfish is increasingly used in some surprisingly non-culinary ways, Kluijfhout covers a lot of ground in 73 minutes.

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There's plenty of footage of the mussels themselves, with the director's camera hunkering in for a close look. Everything is captured, from stop-motion footage of the way a mussel bed grows to the graceful action of their spawning - "they don't have physical sex" but they do have "a big orgy" according to biologist Annelies, who is at the vanguard of helping the creatures reproduce in a lab.

Those who earn their livelihoods from the tasty critters are also represented, from Zeeland fisherman Henk, whose family's harvesting of them stretches back generations but may soon be coming to an end thanks to new rules, through to chef Sergio Herman, who is giving his dad's old mussel recipes a modern twist. Elsewhere, we get to hear about the Belgians who are trying to flex their own mussel muscle in the marketplace and learn about the quirky Mussel Princess. "For me, the mussel is a thing of beauty," says one of the many who make their livelihoods from it and Kluijfhout captures a sense of both the shellfish's elegance and mystery, although I could have lived without the avant garde sound-effect music chosen to accompany some the images.

Kluijfhout is less successful in exploring the broader details of mussel farming, however. While it's fascinating to see the processes that the mussel goes through before it heads out to your dinner plate and sweet to hear one of the processor's concern that this smallest of creature doesn't get too stressed out, the environmental/fisherman argument remains frustratingly muddy. Mussel beds are struggling but the reasons why the rules on them are changing are never fully fleshed out. The debate about the benefits and drawbacks of Mussel seed capture installations also feels under-explored and too heavily reliant on emotional input from those involved rather than harder, more scientific fact.

But if you sometimes yearn for more facts and figures, Kluijfhout's documentary is nonetheless a charming love letter to these durable creatures that is likely to find its way onto televisions around the globe once it has finished mopping up at film festivals.

Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2013
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A look at the complex and ever-changing relationship between humans and mussels.

Director: Willemiek Kluijfhout

Year: 2012

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: Netherlands, Belgium


BIFF 2013

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