• Leviathan

When introducing Leviathan, a sensuous, visually enthralling experimental documentary from directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, Chicago International Film Festival programmer Alex Kopecky made two pithy statements about the film: 1) “The film is awesome,” and 2) “There are no refunds.” Nervous laughter filled the screening I attended, but I considered his disclaimer justified. Though presented by the festival as a documentary—which I suppose it is, nominally—Leviathan is as far removed from the PBS-level social awareness films that most audiences associate with the documentary form as possible.

Set aboard a fishing vessel and depicting the exploits of a group of fisherman, Leviathan is an impressionistic collage of color, sound, movement, and texture, painting a vivid picture of physical labor and its relationship to the audacity of nature. Decidedly nonnarrative, its structure revolves around the contrasting imagery provided by a dozen GoPro digital cameras, which Castaing-Taylor and Paravel, when not manning the cameras themselves, placed in a number of positions: Some were attached to the helmets of the seamen aboard the ship, while others were placed in waterproof containers and tossed overboard.