Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Does Leviathan feature the finest performance in the overlooked cinematic career of hippoglossus hippoglossus? Has anyone even been keeping track? (The Halibut Stu episode of The Beachcombers doesn’t count, so don’t even ask.) At the very least, the film is a rare example of the species earning an acting credit, as befits the egalitarian philosophy of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s dazzling, sensuous documentary, where puffinus gravis is granted equal billing next to Paul Brenner. Leviathan levels the hierarchy of man and nature during a fishing trawl off the Atlantic coast, watching with equal fascination a fish head bouncing around the deck and the sea gulls wheeling above this floating chum buffet. A fisherman lulled to sleep in the lunchroom by a colon cleansing commercial is treated with the same impeccable curiosity as the frantic shouting and jostling of the crew hauling up the nets. The camera, unburdened and as insistent as a small child, seems awestruck by it all. One minute we see the world as a fish sees it, with unknown hands snatching away our peers; the next we’re gazing intently at the head of a man shucking scallops, his brow so close to the camera he scarcely appears human. Ethnography of the most peculiar sort, the film suggests man cannot be understood without context: the vessel bobbing in the dark, the gulls piercing the water, the coughing diesel engine and chattering chains of the winch. Consider it a nature film told from nature’s perspective.