Sea Sparkle


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Sea Sparkle
"The emotional arc Lena experiences is moving without being cloying." | Photo: Aaron La Peirre

The subject of childhood grief ripples through this debut film from Domien Huyghe, which was co-written with his sister Wendy Huyghe and Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and is partially based on the Huyghes' own experience of grief as children.

Lena (Saar Rogiers) is a daddy's girl, sharing Antoine's (Valentijn Dhaenens) love of the sea where he makes his living. When tragedy strikes Antoine's crew, the whole community is left reeling as both she and her best friend Kaz (Dunia Elaweed) find themselves both dealing with the loss of their fathers. With whispers around the town that Antoine's gung-ho attitude in bad weather may have been the cause of the tragedy, Lena is also looking for answers.

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Small wonder, then, when the boat they are carrying the ashes out to sea on is rocked and she sees a shadow beneath the waves, that she becomes convinced that there is a strange creature that caused her father's accident. Convincing everyone else, however, is not that easy, but she manages to enlist the help of a slightly older teen, Vincent (Sverre Rous), who is working for the summer at the local aquarium.

Huyghe lets the isolation Lena is feeling bubble the surface of what becomes, essentially, an adventure tale, although the film's emotional weight largely rests on the strength of friendship Lena finds. Vincent is not entirely sceptical about the monster as - in one of the many elements that root this film firmly in the real world rather than a fantasy framework - he explains that the warming oceans are causing sea creatures to move to places they wouldn't normally be. Still, it's obvious that he's driven as much by the desire to make a new friend as to uncover a mystery of the deep.

Lena's denial about her dad is also gently contrasted against the process Kaz is going through, which involves making a scrapbook of memories about her dad and the experience of her older brother (Thibaud Dooms), who is working through the issue via his music.

The sense of ambiguity surrounding what Lena saw is reinforced by the naturalism with which the story is treated. When she goes in the water, it is not the clear blue of a Disney film but the sort of murky colour you would expect off the coast of Belgium - something that helps later when special effects are called for. In general Anton Mertens seems to rely on natural light, whether its cool blues of the daytime or the magic hour of dusk.

Whether there is a creature or not it is, of course, the monster of grief that Lena is chiefly dealing with but because of the film's adventure structure, this idea never feels overly laboured. It's also accessible enough for tweenies and teenagers to understand without them liable to feel as though they are being spoken down to.

The emotional arc Lena experiences is moving without being cloying, while the film's message - that no matter what monsters are out there, it's friendship that counts - is wholesome without being saccharine.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2023
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After her dad's death at sea, a teenage girl becomes convinced his boat was capsized by a sea monster.

Director: Domien Huyghe

Writer: Domien Huyghe, Wendy Huyghe, Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem

Starring: Saar Rogiers, Dunia Elaweed, Sverre Rous, Thibaud Dooms

Year: 2023

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Belgium

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