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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 30, 2013
Nine Things about “Leviathan”

1. This is what you would call an “experimental documentary”.

2. It’s about the fishing industry off the coast of New England in America.

3. There is no narration to explain what’s going on.

4. There is no soundtrack other than the sounds of the fishing boat and the ocean.

5. It was filmed by attaching tiny cameras on parts of the fishing boat and on the fishermen.

6. This movie makes fishing look really intimidating and scary.

7. Instead of being a traditional documentary that explains something, this one makes you feel like you are looking at a strange and alien job, full of people you will never understand.

8. There are lots of shots of dead and dying fish.

9. This is not meant for everyone. But it’s an extraordinary, non-linear way to tell a story. It’s one of the more memorable movies of the year.
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VINE VOICEon November 15, 2013
True story.

So this past summer I went on vacation with my best friend and our families. Before embarking on our trip, my friend came across these promotional videos for the new Go Pro camera, a camera that basically allows any Joe off the street to become the director of his own movie. We had to have one. So, setting off for a beachside vacation with a Go Pro in our pocket (and on our heads and on a stick and basically wherever else we could stick it) we documented our entire trip. The camera ended up in the ocean, bouncing on six foot waves, for forty minutes as we sloshed around and rammed into each other. It was attacked by dolphins, wound up in the mouth of an alligator and ended up in my best friend’s pants. Watching back these videos can be exhausting. While they are visually stunning, forty minutes of going in and out of the ocean or ten minutes of barely distinguishable dolphin noses can be called ‘artistic’ but can’t really be called entertaining.

The point is that you can hand anyone a Go Pro and they start to think that they are Terrence Malick.

This is kind of the feeling I had while watching ‘Leviathan’, a film I’d been anticipating since early this year when I saw the trailer. Documentaries are a genre that I have vocally had a hard time embracing. Last year the only documentary that I saw was ‘Katy Perry: A Piece of Me’ and the year before that it was only ‘Life in a Day’ (for the gimmick), despite really wanting to see ‘Pina’ (it only played by me for like a week and I missed it). I just don’t gravitate towards them and so I tend to miss them all. I wanted to change all that this year. With so many documentaries garnering critical praise, I decided that I was going to make a conscious effort to see more of them.

I started here.

The first ten minutes or so had me experiencing so many different feelings and emotions. About one minute in, as the screen remained mostly black with just the audible sloshing of water and the brief glimpse of a chain here and there, I was intrigued. Three minutes in, with barely a change in scenery, I was concerned. Five minutes in, as the action become clearer (sort of) and I could see men in slicks, soaked to the bone, yanking at machinery, I was almost convinced that this was going to be a masterpiece. Ten minutes in, when the fish finally fell from their netted imprisonment, I already knew the film’s problem and it is a problem that remained throughout the entirety.

This film really needed a sharper edit.

Telling the story of a North Atlantic commercial fishing boat, ‘Leviathan’ is the anti-documentary. That is what initially drew me to the film. As a man who isn’t always interested in documentaries, to hear that the filmmakers themselves hate documentaries and set out to create a documentary that felt more like a gritty movie made me really excited. Forget the fact that I coined the film ‘Bears on a Boat’ after seeing the trailer (yes, I’m that shallow sometimes), I legitimately wanted to see this for more than the five minute shower scene.

Debate my sexuality all you want; I don’t care.

Upon finishing this film I was left conflicted. There is so much that I actually admire about the direction that these filmmakers took here, but they are the very same things that I would probably change in order to make the film better. It’s a slippery slope from ‘artistic’ to ‘unwatchable’, and while I applaud the idea and the concept (this is so avant-garde in construction), these choices ultimately bring the film down.

With no narration (and really, only a speckle of talking at all, which is barely audible thanks to the white noise emanating from the surroundings), the film feels very cold and detached, which was purposeful and kind of refreshing. That being said, without any sort of conversation between crew or voice over to illuminate us on what it is that we are experiencing, the abrasiveness of the visuals (and they are abrasive) lose some of their poignancy and impact. Watching fisherman desecrate the bodies of stingrays for five minutes is already hard enough to look at, but with no real context it feels like unnecessary brutality. Again, this is probably the whole point and I do admire the ‘idea’, but I would have done it differently. More than the lack of narration though, the film’s biggest hurdle is the lack of edit. Each individual scene is probably two minutes too long. If they had only trimmed these scenes down, the film would have been a 60 minute doc and it would have probably been perfect.

I mean that.

Instead we are left with elongated scenes that don’t change much at all in composition and become repetitive and ultimately burdensome. For a film that is a brisk hour and a half, I felt like I was watching a four hour movie.

And really, don’t watch this hung-over. I almost threw up.

If you are seeking a unique movie experience, this is your ticket. The film is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but it is a film that I admired more than I enjoyed, and I really wish that these flaws hadn’t been so present, because they overwhelm the film. I do hope that more people try their hand at this style of filmmaking, because conceptually and visually, the film is not merely compelling but really beautiful, in a disgusting and gritty way. It just feels so raw and honest and brutal. This is a film that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon, and one that I’m sure I’ll continue to mull over.

I may absolutely LOVE this in a week, once I’ve removed myself from the initial experience and given my mind time to soak in the lingering impact.
22 comments13 of 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Leviathan pairs the direct cinema ethnographics of Verena Paravel (Foreign Parts) with the more pared-down aesthetics of Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) to create a truly unique approach to documentary, delivering an astonishing perspective on deep sea fishing in the North Atlantic. What strikes you at once is what you might call the naiveté of the camera's eye. It's not random, it's intelligent, and seems to pay attention and figure things out, but it's as if the operator doesn't start out knowing what's important, it's as if the camera is a subjectivity thrown into the situation of the fishing ship -- to begin with in the nearly total darkness of the early hours -- and starts out just looking, intrigued by what it sees and wanting to capture it all, but only one piece at a time.

You'd think it would be boring. I was prepared for something slow and contemplative, and perhaps a little scary to see the blood of fish remains washing from the ship. It turns out I couldn't look away - the naiveté of the camera made me forget what I know about fishing, and just look, sharing in the fascinations of the camera. It really turned out to be one of the most memorable visual (and visceral) experiences I've had in front of a screen.

It is as if, at first, we have a camera operator that does not know, for example, that people are what's interesting on a boat, that you should shoot things from an eye-level perspective, that there should be establishing shots to orient the viewer's perspective. Yet this lack of knowing never feels like incompetence or ineptitude, but rather signals openness, an inquisitiveness, an eagerness to see and learn. The subjectivity behind the camera is an intensely curious eye, intent on learning how things work. It's got the impulses, one might say, of a radical empiricist. Sometimes observing from the level of the deck, and sometimes just below the surface of the ocean, it is an eye that seems intent on learning how things work on the ship, figuring out just how things are done here, and to what purpose. At first we see the people who are working the ship only obliquely - a hand, a boot, a glimpse of a face. It's an amphibious eye, as comfortable coming up close to the machinery of the boat or the arms of the worker as it is in settling below the surface, breaking through to catch a glimpse of the sky only with the rolling of the waves

It is, in other words, an interested gaze, but one that doesn't come in with an agenda. It has an eye for the surprising and lovely, and can enter into a reverie, ceasing to roam for a while, as it settles in to simply watch the water rolling by the deck of the boat, or the flocks of seagulls, eager for the ship's remains. A few incidents on the ship "teach" the camera that people are the agents of the activities taking place, and the camera follows one man who seems to be in charge for a while, and it learns to sit and look, rather than roaming, as the man sits and looks at the television set while he eats, until he falls asleep, and the camera returns to where it seems to take the greatest interest, at the edge of the ship, just above and below the surface, where the birds fly above and the fish are below. Lingering on the border between sea and sky, an amphibious eye. Astonishing.
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on December 5, 2013
LEVIATHAN has attracted a fair amount of negative criticism from users. The reason is obvious: it is an essentially plotless piece designed to appeal to the senses and the imagination rather than telling a story. Focusing on the fishing industry in New Bedford, USA, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel create a visually arresting experience in which color and imagery assume paramount importance. The movie is full of memorable images - a flock of seagulls flying at night, a lone bird trying to find food on the fishing boat, the sight of the fishermen lopping the heads off their catch. The movie has a memorable soundtrack, with the sounds of daily life in the fishing industry forming a kind of musique-concrete style score that has a certain haunting power. In thematic terms, the directors are out to show the power of the elements and how human life often seems insignificant by comparison - sometimes the fishermen seem entirely at the mercy of the cruel sea. Nonetheless they acquire a certain stoicism that enables them to continue their work; in one sequence, for instance, a lone fishermen is shown watching the television during one of his all-too-brief breaks from his nightly chores. LEVIATHAN does not celebrate the fishermen's life; it is more concerned to create an experience for viewers, and more than fulfills the task.
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VINE VOICEon February 6, 2014
This is a great but disturbing film that provides a terrifying testament to our overfishing of the oceans. The mostly close-up cinematography is breathtaking and there is no dialogue. Some will find this unorthodox method of storytelling a little too off the beaten path, but I found it refreshing - there's something very subjective about it, almost as if you're actually there on the fishing boat. Strongly recommended.
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on April 23, 2014
Be aware: This is not a classic documentary. This is a physical and metaphysical experience where sea, sky, fishes, seagulls and men merge and mix in terrifying or poetic images. The best and most sensible way to remind us where we belong.
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on November 22, 2013
This is certainly one of the most powerful documentaries ever made, and takes cinematography to new levels, but it can't possibly be appreciated properly unless you see it on a very large screen or in a theatre with the best hi-def projection possible. Incredibly intense, relentless, un-narrated, at times shockingly graphic and violent, disturbing, naturalistic, impressionistic, beautiful, and most of what's shown is almost never known or seen by the public or consumers of fish or seafood, not that it's anti-anything. It's a film that imposes no morals, judgment, context, history or attitude on its subject. Its "themes" , if you must have those, are the banality and beauty and brutality of reality, work, the material world, the elements, human drama, strength, boredom, interior life vs.exterior power. If nothing else, the film reminds you of why filmmaking must and should NEVER be allowed to devolve into small screen, self-enclosed experiences. Of course, it will become increasingly impossible ever to see the film as it should be seen.
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on May 2, 2014
I'm sure now everyone knows what this film is about. A unique and quirky documentary which deals with commercial fishing off the coast of New England. Obviously a wild and scary line of work. It promised to be (and I quote the critics tag lines): "Visceral and intense. Captures a world in a way no one has before." and other type hyperbole. In truth it was interesting, and they put camera's in places most would never go, and we got minutes on end of footage of floating dead fish. But ultimately I was expecting something a little more intense, some footage of the deadly peril and seas they fished in. Seas that have claimed thousands of lives in all the years. But it was quite tame in comparison. There were certainly plenty of shots that put you in the middle of what was happening, waves lashing against the lens, both below and slightly above the surface of the water. Those with weaker stomachs might want to consider taking several Dramamine before viewing. Certainly an "immersive" experience as they claimed, but not in a very interesting way. Minutes on end of chains being pulled from the water and nets dripping. Or people casually slicing fish, which if other reviewers; seemingly people with no real knowledge of such lines of work found brutally honest and intriguing, although such things can be found in abundance on your average "ship at sea" type show on the Discovery Channel, or countless reels of ancient documentary footage of fish processing. I found myself the whole time wanting to turn the sound off (it had no narration or sound track which could be fine if it were a bit more interesting) and wanting to put on some sort of intense and driving type music. Swans "The Seer" album I have recently found eerily coincides perfectly with multiple underwater documentary shows, and the loud, intense music of the album would go quite well with these visuals, and if watched at the same time would actually be a surreal, visceral, and intense experience. But that is simply my own tastes, and I think it would have improved it some. Ultimately some will find it fully engaging, and others tantalizingly interesting but falling short of their expectations. At the end of the day it's worth seeing once or twice, but I can't imagine it's something you would want to go back to time and again.

EDIT: I borrowed this film from the library again intent on viewing it with the Swans album I mentioned above. I have to say it improved the film dramatically. I highly recommend anyone viewing it to try it out, especially if you found it interesting but lacking. The entire two hour album is available on youtube so you don't even have to spend money.
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on November 24, 2014
We bought the Blu-ray version of this, which turned out to be defective and would not play. Unfortunately, because we did not attempt to watch it within 30 days of its arrival, Amazon would not allow us to exchange it for a working copy.
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on October 15, 2015
Excellent product and service!
0Comment0 of 1 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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