TIFF 2012: Leviathan Shoots Fish in Earth's Barrel



Leviathan takes audiences on a gut-churning trip aboard an Atlantic fishing vessel.
  • Leviathan takes audiences on a gut-churning trip aboard an Atlantic fishing vessel.

I don't recommend watching Leviathan on a full stomach. And chances are, you'll want to steer clear of seafood for weeks after watching this startling documentary, which debuted this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

More anthropology than art, Leviathan is considered an "experimental" nonfiction examination of life aboard a fishing vessel off the New England coast. French directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's previous work is housed in the British Museum in London and New York's Museum of Modern Art. Their work rarely advocates or preaches, instead, it lays bare its subject.

For Leviathan, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel strapped their cameras to tethers so that the lenses were submerged in churning oceans alongside the boat. I found myself holding my breath on more than one occasion. And as the ship's crew haul in net after net of fish, the vessel eventually is coated with blood from the carnage. It's gut-turning, but somehow, you can't look away.

The boat pitches with each massive wave, while the crew works its seafood slaughter. The film also features very little editing, letting extended scenes paint word pictures that no script could ever dare.

The film's title comes from the Bible's book of Job:

"Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? ... If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again."

Leviathan is not for the faint of heart (or stomach) but its originality makes it a must-see. Just don't plan on going out for sushi anytime soon after.

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