Patience (After Sebald)


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Patience (After Sebald)
"A film that is satisfying intuitively even when it misfires at other levels."

Considered by many to have been one of the world's greatest authors, WG Sebald ('Max' to his friends) left a unique European legacy that resonates across time and space. This documentary explores its artistic and intellectual impact, opening with a mapping project that explores the locations he used and the geographical notions underlying them.

Sebald was an early synthesist, bringing together multiple intellectual disciplines as well as multiple forms of media. Though his use of imagery was never the primary focus of his work, he had a sharp eye for pattern in photography and in his meticulous black and white drawings. This film visits the places that inspired some of those drawings, melting from colour into the heavy-contrast landscapes he perceived, so we are looking at his pictures gently moving. Seascapes, suburban streets, open moorland. What might seem unremarkable places infused with meaning. They carry the weight of words unspoken, though in places we also hear his poetry, aching, melancholy.

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Every artist exists in a continuum with others and that is all the more true of one who has a secondary career in academia, so there is no shortage of people available to tell their stories here. The quality of those stories is very variable. Some can do no more than flatly express their awe; only a few really seem to engage with the work and expand on its ideas. This results in uneven pacing and stretches of the film that, though beautiful, are dull to listen to, but in some ways it further emphasises the importance of the Sebald's attempt to fill a narrative gap, especially when it comes to Germany's understanding of the Holocaust.

Every creative artist faces a difficult balancing act between being mentally healthy and being sensitive enough to the world to experience it in fresh ways. For Sebald the world was always raw - "it was as if he had no skin" says one commentator - and his pain comes across acutely here. People who have experienced depression may find it difficult to watch but it is interesting in its ability to make that emotional connection alongside all the discussion. It is this that elevates it and makes it a worthy companion piece to Sebald's own work, a film that is satisfying intuitively even when it misfires at other levels. Fans of Sebald will find it intriguing; curious outsiders may experience some frustration but will still find it an interesting introduction.

Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2012
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Patience (After Sebald) packshot
An exploration of the prose, poetry and artwork of WG Sebald and its place within European history and geography.
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Director: Grant Gee

Year: 2011

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2012

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