Thursday, 7 March 2013

Patience (After Sebald)

Patience (After Sebald)

“In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.” 

Extract from The Rings Of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

A cynical man (Who am I kidding?  I am that man) might posit the notion that the cure for emptiness does not lie in East Anglia.

Described as  “A richly textured essay film on landscape, art, history, life and loss,” Patience (After Sebald) is an art film that screams ART in capital letters.

Coming ten years after the author W.G. Max Sebald’s untimely death in a car crash and inspired by his most influential and best known work 1995’s The Rings Of Saturn, the film explores Sebald’s work by retracing his steps and documenting his wander round Suffolk, extracts from the book, read by Jonathan Pryce, serving as narration while various academics, artists and writers (among them Marina Warner, Iain Sinclair and Andrew Motion) comment on Sebald; his life, his work and what his legacy means to them.

A German who settled in Suffolk and became Chair of European Literature at Norwich’s University of East Anglia, Sebald is no easy read.  He once wrote a 9 page long sentence for God’s sake!  Writing in German (his work being translated into English), his work deals with memory, perception, decay and the attempt to reconcile himself with the Holocaust and the Second World War.  Existing in a no-man’s land somewhere between fact, fiction, memoir and travelogue, his works are most easily defined as novels and are often punctuated by stark black and white photos he took on his contemplative rambles.

Owing a huge debt to the work of Chris Marker, Grant Gee has fashioned a dull film, it’s pedestrian black and white imagery echoing but never quite equaling Sebald’s own stark, grainy photographs.  The film neither illuminates his subject nor inspires curiosity.  If you’re a fan of Sebald’s work, this film will add nothing to your understanding and appreciation of his work.  If you’re not a fan, you’re not going to be hitting the bookshops looking for a copy of The Rings Of Saturn any time soon. 

It’s a tedious, soporific affair which inspires sleep more than anything else, Gee’s commentator’s adding little insight to Sebald’s opaque work.  British author and filmmaker Iain Sinclair (whose own work similarly mixes poetry, fiction and essay) recollects once sharing a lift with Sebald. 

That’s it! 

That’s the sum of the story! 

He once was in the same lift as his literary hero and now wishes he had spoken to him!  THEY WERE IN THE LIFT TOGETHER BUT NEVER SPOKE!  And that’s one of the more interesting contributions to the film.

It’s a shame that an author whose work is so intrinsically concerned with perception and memory has inspired quite such an unmemorable film.  Like the Suffolk countryside it showcases, Patience (After Sebald) is bland, featureless and entirely forgettable.      

David Watson

Grant Gee
The Rings Of Saturn – Jonathan Pryce
Salt Water & After Nature and So On written and read by Sir Andrew Motion
Tacita Dean, Marina Warner, Chris Petit, Iain Sinclair, Christopher Woodward, Rick Moody, Katie Mitchell, Sir Andrew Motion
Running time
90 minutes

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