Monday, April 29, 2013

Leviathan (2012)

WHO: Lucien Castaing-Taylor (of Sweetgrass) and Verena Paravel (of Foreign Parts) co-directed this documentary.

WHAT: If documentaries shine clarifying light into mysterious corners, Leviathan illuminates just how literally tenebrous a subject can be. Bookendend in blackness, brushstrokes of light captured by ultra-portable videocameras paint, detail-by-detail, what ultimately becomes a canvas illustrating the workings of a Northeastern seafood trawler. First harshly machine-like, this floating factory's human operation comes into focus before fade-out. If Herman Melville'd had access to GoPro technology, would we still read Moby Dick?

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screenings tonight at 8:45 at the Pacific Film Archive, with an added screening at the Kabuki, at 5:30 on May 9th. 

WHY: The capsule review in the above "WHAT" section of this post is exactly seventy-five words long. I counted because this is the maximum credentialled press are allowed to use when writing on certain SFIFF films each year. Called the "hold review" policy, it's meant to encourage writers to save detailed reviews and articles until the theatrical releases of features with distribution. Sometimes it makes perfect sense; when Olivier Assayas's Something In The Air is set to open locally on May 17th, or even when Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing has a farther-in-the-future release date of August 9th, it makes sense for the festival and its distributor partners to put pressure on critics to wait to have their full say at a time when it will most benefit theatres who've booked a commercial run, the distributors themselves, and arguably the audiences, who will have more options for viewing than just a few festival screenings at very select theatres and times.

In the case of Leviathan, whose distributor is the admirable but small Cinema Guild, a local commercial release in a Frisco Bay cinema is a more open question. A week-long run in New York City occurred over a month ago, and the accompanying reviews have already been published. Considering the popularity of this particular doc at SFIFF, it's not out of the question that the Roxie might chance a booking (in which case I'll be trumpeting it as loudly as I can to anyone who'll listen), but I wouldn't count on it. So hopefully my seventy-five words are enough to help you decide whether or not to get a festival ticket, because this may be your only chance to see it on a local cinema screen.

HOW: DCP presentation of an all-digital work.


  1. Brian: I appreciate what the moviemakers were trying to do, and I just read three articles on the work from recent film magazines, but on first viewing I am disappointed by what I think is a crude kind of cinematic impressionism. When I was a boy I fancied that the way to shoot a person falling under a carriage was to have the camera roll around on the ground to simulate the action. In all fairness that's what Gance actually did in parts of "Napoleon." But I prefer the more distanced approach one of these directors used on "Sweetgrass." Maybe it's just me. Today Mark Cousins who I respect very much weighed in with two tweets expressing his inability to appreciate "Viaggo In Italia."

  2. It's not just you; this has been one of the most divisive titles in the festival. I know two other local bloggers who hated it thoroughly. But after watching a second time, I'm all the more convinced of the vitality of the approach used in this film. I still haven't seen Sweetgrass I must confess.