Usedom: A Clear View Of The Sea


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Usedom: A Clear View Of The Sea
"You'll have the melancholy sensation that you're watching something which is disappearing even as you see it."

In most European countries, people go south for their holidays. In Germany, they go north. Perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea, just north of the Polish city of Szczecin, the island of Usedom, which is divided between the two countries (albeit, these days, in a very relaxed way) is a favourite holiday destination. Once a luxury resort visited by Kaiser Wilhelm - in whose honour an annual parade is held to this day - it is now gradually being colonised by the giant luxury hotels that have done so much damage around the world, coming and going, chewing up natural beauty and spitting it out. Can the island's unique culture survive?

Heinz Brinkmann's documentary, which flows at the gentle pace of island life yet still manages to pack in a lot of information, sets out to explore the island's history and the views of its residents. Some of this is the director's own history, as he was born there. First up is a naked man with a fine suntan which, he says, once prompted a stranger to ask how long he had been there. "Since 1952," was his answer, being a native himself; and despite the fact that it has never been a place where he could get rich or make waves, he's content there, living his best life, as long as he has a clear view of the sea.

Along the island's promenade, the sea can be observed from a plethora of stately homes, many now divided into flats or serving as hotels. There are also intentionally built hotels here of the type where one would expect the concierges to be secret members of the Society of Crossed Keys. Some of more recently arrived members of the community complain about the smell from the fish market, but fishing is also an important part of Usedom's heritage and its local outlets are as popular as the touristy shops. Down on the beach, an old man pushes a refrigerator on a cart, selling ice cream. It looks like a place from another age - as long as the view remains clear.

Meandering around the island, we meet various important community members, from its former mayor to a conservationist trying to preserve its grasslands. We spend time on an organic farm and see how cows are transported in a trailer towed through the very shallow sea by a truck at a neighbouring, barely inhabited islet for summer grazing. The changing tourist market isn't the only threat here. This year, the cows will lave the islet earlier than usual. recently, 60% of it was submerged beneath the waves. The sea is coming for this low lying place, fiercer each year, washing away portions of the beach, scouring it with winter waves which - though still gentle by most standards - are making their point.

As the film is in German and approached from a German perspective, we see relatively little of the Polish part, but do journey there briefly to contemplate the beauty of its women and take tea with a local family. Each individual is introduced as if we ought to have heard of them or at least know somebody who knows them, in a place whose population is sufficiently small that that's the norm.

You won't feel like a local after watching this - as on Amity, one suspects, it is impossible to become an islander anyway - but you will understand something of what it means to the locals and why they're anxious to preserve its unique qualities. You'll have the melancholy sensation that you're watching something which is disappearing even as you see it, for all that it used to be thought magnificent and eternal. It is a last relic of empire in an age when empires all around the world are crumbling to dust. Brinkmann paints a portrait of a beguiling ghost.

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2021
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Usedom: A Clear View Of The Sea packshot
The story of a Baltic island and its changing experiences as a tourist destination.

Director: Heinz Brinkmann

Writer: Heinz Brinkmann

Year: 2017

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Germany


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