Watch the trailer above, as hundreds have done at The Belcourt over the past month, and you'll have precisely the same question we did after seeing Leviathan: "How in hell did people make this without losing their lives?" The good news is that you can ask filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel yourself at the 8:10 show tonight, as they'll discuss the documentary via Skype opening night at The Belcourt.
If you can't go tonight, you have a few more chances to catch one of the most remarkable big-screen spectacles of recent years through Saturday. Here's the write-up from this week's Scene:
Pinpoint that sliver of the Venn diagram where experimental film intersects with reality TV shows like Deadliest Catch, and there you’ll find the astonishing documentary Leviathan, a rigorously experiential account of life aboard (and around, and above, and underneath) a commercial fishing vessel off the coast of New England. (That overlap may not be so small: Two weeks ago the doc had the nation’s second-highest per-screen average, beating every mainstream release in the Top 10.) But where TV shows try to ingratiate us with “humanizing” detail that plays up the crew’s personalities, filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (Sweetgrass) take the opposite tack, recording the work of hoisting nets, sorting fish and braving the elements in handheld shots so intensely focused they’re virtually alien — fishing as sci-fi enacted by disconnected hands, disembodied voices and featureless figures.
Leviathan, like those reality shows, arguably functions as labor porn for an audience with little taste for actual gruntwork. (When that work entails hacking sting rays into thirds with hooks and machetes, the result is less porn than piscine snuff film, shot by the filmmakers with merciless nonjudgmental eyes.) The more abstract the footage gets, however, the more gripping Leviathan becomes, culminating in elemental imagery of steaming waves and churning water nearly biblical in its violence. It’s aided by immersive sound design that shuts out the world beyond, replacing it with muffled gurgles, garbled voices and the scraping of oyster knives and seabird feet. The image I can’t get out of my head is of the camera breaking the ocean’s surface to find hundreds of seabirds silhouetted in symmetrical profusion, as if God and Escher had entered into collaboration.