Saturday, June 12, 2021

Notes on Last Days at Sea, by Venice Atienza, Philippines: 2021-Berlin Filmfestival IV.-Generationkplus

I have seen another world. Sometimes I think it was just my imagination.”

(the young deserter Private Witt in The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick, 1998)

While watching films it happens from time to time that after just a few minutes, I fall in love with them. It is almost “Love at the first sight”. With Last Days at Sea, it was a bit like last year with Polina Gumiela´s Blue Eyes, my dress is colourful (Generation kplus, 2020). It happened also with Eno naka no boku no mura (Village of Dreams) by Yoichi Higashi 25 years ago at the Berlinale-competition. These films needed just a few shots to transfer me back to the wonders of childhood. Last Days at Sea by Philippine filmmaker Venice Atienza is one of these films and by far more than a documentary.

At the beginning, Attienza´s voice over marks the film already as a memory. Everything we see has already passed by. It is not just about a boy called Reyboy who spends his last days at his native village at the ocean before he has to go to the big city for education. It is as well a film about the friendship between the 12 years old boy and the filmmaker. In the recorded Q&A-conversation between Venice Atienza and Maryanne Redpath, the filmmaker explains how she had to change her attitude from making a film about this boy into making a film with this boy and her bond with him. This seemingly practical decision turned out to be finally the key to the poetry of this film. After Atienzas introduction, the film is not only what we see, it is also a film we literally live with in each shot. Our knowledge that everything has already gone intensifies the film even more. Each moment, even the most ordinary every day action appears as sheer poetry. When Reyboy collect stones or when he cooks, each moment appears as precious. But this childhood idyl is not unbroken. Some fishermen tell about their work. It is difficult, the sea is often overfished and it can be very dangerous. The life of the villagers depends on the sea and what they get from it. When ships are leaving we are afraid that they never return.

There is a small siesta scene which reminds me in the beauty of a likely scene in Renoir´s The River. Everything and everyone reposes for a moment, Reyboy, the other kids, even a dog and a cat. And always like a refrain, there are long shots of the sea and the sky which emphasizes the film frame but at the same time it evokes the eternity beyond the limitation of the frame. These views at the mundane things and sometimes glances to the eternal sky appear to me as a poetic definition of cinema at all. I do not now if I shall call it pure cinema or a dream of cinema.

Once Atienza and the boy lie at night near the ocean for watching the stars. Watching stars is as well looking back to the past but more important it is very close to watching a film on the big screen. It is this strange relationship between scientific curiosity and how we fill images with see with our dreams and our yearning. When we see Reyboy diving in the ocean, mesmerized by the beauty of the world under water, the slight melancholy of the fleetingness is always there.

The necessity of open her up to the boy is as well an invitation for the spectator to follow her example to open ourselves for this miracle of a film. Her very personal commentary (which points out as well the “Caméra Stylo”-character of her film) tells once about a dream she had. Another time she tells about a favorite desert which reminds her in her late grandmother. A sundown with awesome beautiful cloud formations. They fantasize about what they see in these formations but they also talk about their losses, her grandmother or Reyboy´s elder brother who died before he was born. The watching and remembering happens in this film often together. The kind the film opens our eyes and our soul is incredible.

As Reyboy, Atienza and finally we ourselves are always close to the ocean and herewith to the origin of life, the film seems to be very close to the purpose of cinema itself. Last Days at Sea is also a new masterpiece of the sub genre called “Coming of Ages” anywhere between such wonders like Renoir´s The River, Malick´s The Tree of Life, Mulligan´s The Man in the Moon, or the Vietnamese Dang Nhat Minh´s Thuong nho dong que (Nostalgia for the Countryland).

As I have a strange receptivity for the last moments of a film I literally lived in for the time of its length, when the film sings for the last time its refrain, I had quite a hard time to let the film go. as we all know the crisis caused by the pandemic had cinema worldwide in its stranglehold. And Venice Atienza´s work on her film was as well affected. But now, the poets of cinema begin to sing again, and one of their most beautiful new songs is Last Days at Sea by Venice Atienza.

Rüdiger Tomczak


Sat, 19.6. 17.30 Neue Bühne Hasenheide

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