Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"There's a strong sense of isolation from the start in Fisher's film." | Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

There have been plenty of recent documentaries focusing on the risks at sea many refugees are prepared to take in search of a better life - and if you're looking for a place to start with those, I recommend Fire At Sea, Eldorado and The Movement. Last year also saw the issue capture the attentions of fiction filmmakers with Styx arriving in Berlin and Lifeboat debuting in Denmark in the autumn.

These fictional features would make an excellent double-bill, with Lifeboat skewering Europe's privileged and preconceived ideas about those fleeing across the water, while this film by Austrian director Wolfgang Fischer targets how easy it is for people to become as indifferent as nature to the suffering of others if it isn't in their faces.

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There's a strong sense of isolation from the start in Fischer's film, with scenes of Barbary macaque monkeys in Gibraltar, going about their business, largely oblivious to the rest of the world, a spare, rock-guitar score from Dirk von Lowtzow adding a slight portentous edge. Next we meet protagonist Rike (Susanne Wolff in a fiercely physical performance), who is attending a messy traffic accident to give paramedic assistance. No wonder then, that she looks to get away from it all on holiday, with a plan to sail a boat from Gibraltar to the Ascension Islands, where Charles Darwin created an artificial forest.

The economy with which Fischer tells us all this is impressive with a map here and a book spine there telling most of the story, which is just as well as Rike's contact with others for most of the film is extremely limited, in fact one of the few things that doesn't quite gel in the film is that she never speaks to herself. It's also surely no mistake that her ship is called the Asa Gray, named for a doctor turned botanist who believed science and religion could co-exist and that all members of a species are inextricably linked.

Out in the ocean, it's her against the elements, something Rike clearly relishes, until she spots a stricken vessel close by. Looking through binoculars, she can see it's drifting and overloaded, soon will come the morale questioning of the Darwinian idea of: "The survival of the fittest". On land, back home, it was easy to rally services in an emergency and co-ordinate a rescue. Now she is literally all at sea, with coastguards showing little obvious empathy - although Fischer makes time later to show how overwhelming their position has become. For now he turns the screw, positioning Rike on the sharp horns of an increasingly thorny dilemma as she faces almost impossible choices - all the while asking us about the decisions we make from the comfort of our lives simply by refusing to look.

Reviewed on: 26 Apr 2019
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A storm in the middle of the ocean, a boat full of refugees that is about to sink and a woman all by herself...
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Director: Wolfgang Fischer

Writer: Wolfgang Fischer, Ika K├╝nzel

Starring: Susanne Wolff, Gedion Oduor Wekesa, Alexander Beyer, Inga Birkenfeld, Anika Menger, Susanne Wolff, Gedion Oduor Wekesa, Alexander Beyer, Inga Birkenfeld, Anika Menger

Year: 2018

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Germany, Austria

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If you like this, try:

Fire At Sea