Review: LEVIATHAN Enthralls, Blows Minds

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer

It's dark. First, you hear the eerie clanking of metal and waves: sound of something heavy, something industrial getting pulled out of the bubbling sea. It's all abstract: saturated colors -- iridescent blue, yellow, red and green all mixed in.

It takes some time to realize that we are on a giant commercial fishing boat, and the crew is untangling an enormous chain that is connected to the fishing net. It's a tedious and also dangerous process by the looks of it. The whole scene reminds me of late Godard films where he manipulates his video image into an abstraction. This is just the beginning of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's jaw-dropping second feature, Leviathan.

The images, shot entirely on tiny GoPro cameras, are startling and breathtakingly beautiful. For its tiny size, weight and durability, GoPro is widely used in extreme sports videography. Here, the filmmakers jerry rig and hand-hold them in various places on the ship. Thanks to no depth of field and limited exposure range, the image that this camera captures -- dark and ominous -- is unlike anything you've seen in a feature film before. There are many scenes that are just mind-blowing: In one scene, the camera, mounted in front of the mast, plunges into roiling water, bobs up, down, up, over and over again, contrasting the sea and the sky in a spectacular manner. Amazing sound design by Ernst Karel adds to this visceral sensory experience.

The film, at times, becomes nauseating, considering many of the scenes are hand-held and seeing massive amount of dead fish with their bulging eyes and innards spilling out of their mouth swishing across the frame in blood. Even though there are some humans appearing in the frame, everything in Leviathan appears distant and abstract. It's the cruel nature seen and heard unapologetically and without much filter.

Leviathan is categorized as a documentary, but it is only considered as one in a sense that it's non-narrative. As I was watching it at the press screening, the only comparable movie experience I could think of was watching the films of French filmmaker/visual artist Philippe Grandrieux -- especially Un Lac. Described by some critics as the haptic cinema, Grandrieux's work is regarded as the cinema of the senses before the intellect. That human brain processes many types of information that are not formed into thoughts before experienced and embodied. Leviathan needs to be seen on the big screen to get the full impact. It's an enthralling theater going experience from beginning to end.

True story: as I was standing in line to attend the press screening for the film, I noticed a little wild salt-pepper haired Frenchman with dark glasses in front of me. Could he be Philippe Grandrieux? I thought to myself. Grandrieux turned out to be a good friend of the filmmakers, as he joined the Q & A session after the screening, defending the filmmakers from a barrage of asinine questions like "What's the meaning of this film?"


Review originally published during the New York Film Festival in October 2012. Leviathan opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday, March 1, before rolling out to other cities across the U.S. in the coming weeks. Visit the Cinema Guild website for more information.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions can be found at www.dustinchang.com.

Around the Internet:
  • Smarten_Up

    Sorry but this filmmaker is full of it. The film is a waste of our good time, better spent sleeping than watching...

    Just because you are a Harvard professor and go out to sea and get wet and bumped around does NOT make your footage worth seeing. A real tough editing is needed here, such as when I ran this dvd at quadruple fast forward, reducing it to just a few minutes. Even then, some scenes should be deleted.

    Were they really surprised that all flesh food on the plate comes at a high price? Do all these film reviewers and their academic buddies never think about food, until they find themselves on the deck of a trawler? Hey !--HEY! that is real life--and real DEATH, get it Prof???

    Eat some vegetables if you are so guilty, but keep this stuff as a home movie; "What I Did on My Sabbatical..."

    Sound was unhearable, in fact frustrating, more informative as silent on fast forward! And that essay by Cyril Neyrat? Not only must it have been poorly translated, it was written in garbage-academese...sincerely hope no one got tenure for that!

  • LegendKiLL3R

    these reviewer are full of shitttt Wtf i just watch

  • Agreed, this is an extremely boring movie... zzZZZzzzzz...

  • SilentXero

    I got bored READING the freaking review; I can't imagine having to watch such pretentious crap. I "get" the reference about the boat being the "monster", but the title of this review is a total middle finger to horror/monster movie fans waiting for a great fucking monster movie!

  • Badwriting boy

    The monster is the boat, horrific giant killing all in its path. Deep, man, deep...

  • MT

    This movie review is the most inflated, pretentious piece of crap I've ever read. Really? Fishing is exciting and visually stunning? FISHING??? As for the film, its only merit is the ability to induce a visual migraine and maybe garner you a sick day. Dude, go piss up a rope...

  • For all these people putting down this film..This just a indie Documentary,thats all.Meaning that there will be no monster(s) no nothing but a real life job some people do for a living.Just saying is all.

  • Pablo

    where is the frecking monster?

    what a lame of trailer and movie, watching some pricks killin' fish

  • guy

    this movie is the most boring fucking movie I've ever seen the camera is underwater for 50% of the film and nothing is happening. You gotta be retarded to like this movie

  • nouu

    looks stupid...

  • skunkybeaumont

    Movie looks great but HORRIBLE title choice. If its called Leviathan there needs to be a monster. Period.

  • ted

    Watched the trailer and read your thing still dont know what this is but it looks cool

  • MarsHottentot

    WOW! Yep. I'm there.

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