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Film in Which You Root for the Fish

Huffington Post, Erica Abeel, September 29, 2012


Leviathan by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel. You ain't never seen a documentary like this. Dispensing with voiceover, musical score, or explicit argument, the filmmakers spirit us along on a fishing boat expedition in the dark and gleaming damp of pre-dawn. It's documentary as unmediated immersion in a world we mostly take for granted in our fish-eating culture, which appears to be depleting the ocean. After viewing this vision of the life aquatic, though, you may not want to rush out to Citarella.

What's on display here is nothing short of wholesale slaughter as giant nets haul in their Babel of struggling creatures, lending new resonance to the phrase "take the bait." Such is the strategy of the filmmakers you're down on the slimy, bloody decks with the fish regarding the world through their POV. At one point the camera holds on a fish's lopped off head, apparently somewhat alive, as it lolls about in the gore. Hell, you root for the fish.

Though rough-going, these scenes are interspliced with images of jewel-like beauty rivaling abstract paintings splattered across the night's black canvas. In an indelible scene, underwater cameras follow gulls dive-bombing the sea. At one point the camera holds interminably on a slack-jawed, glaucous-eyed fisherman relaxing below decks. I lost patience with this time-out in real time. Yet after, the image haunted me as a brilliant reflection of how the slaughter that's all in a day's work blurs the lines between the human predators and their victims. As if the living sea exacts its revenge.

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