Film Society Selection
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Tuesday 13th July 7.30pm
FILM RECEIVED 29 WINS AND 17 NOMINATIONS
Fischer, Germany/Austria, 2018,
95 minutes, German/English with some subtitles
Susanne Wolff, Gedion Oduor Wekesa, Felicity Babao
Sailing alone, Rieke is forced to make a life or death decision when her trip drastically changes course.
An unusual and provocative allegory of personal responsibility, enjoying brisk filmmaking,
immersive sound design and an atmosphere of mounting dread.
Director: Marie-Stephane Cattaneo, France, 2017,
The story of an ordinary day in the life of an ordinary man in a corner of the world which is anything but
DepicT! 2017 Shooting People Audience Award
A taut moral thriller, Styx is a story of what happens when self-reliance runs into other peoples desperation. The lives of others dont seem of much concern to a German doctor, Rike (Susanne Wolff), when she sets off on her adventure. Alone on a 30-foot sailing yacht, she is headed to Ascension Island, a mid-Atlantic speck roughly halfway between Africa and South America. With grit, provisions and a pretty coffee-table book about the island that suggests her romanticism, or perhaps naïveté, Rike is following Charles Darwin to Ascension. Its a dream journey that will slam into the refugee crisis.
One womans dream can look like someone elses worst nightmare, even if the director Wolfgang Fischer initially makes Rikes passage into existential isolation seem inviting. After a brief, eloquent preamble in Germany, he deposits Rike in Gibraltar, where she efficiently packs up her boat. Much like his protagonist, Fischer assumes a well-organized, seamless approach to his launch, setting the scene with a bright, direct visual style that feels largely informational a lingering shot of what appears to be months worth of food and water and only occasionally slides into the metaphoric, as when Rike sails past a gargantuan tanker that conveys an ominous dehumanization.
Part of the allure of
this expedition is its quietude, at least for the audience. Soon after
Rike leaves Gibraltar, she is enveloped by the ocean, and the movie
shifts into the visual and auditory minimalism that defines its alluring,
almost hypnotically soothing first third. Fischer primarily shot Styx
on the open sea, with Malta standing in for the west coast of Africa.
Its a headily seductive landscape painted in every conceivable
shade of blue and daubed with white. Like Rike, you settle into the
luxurious peacefulness, a stillness augmented by the waters rhythmic
splashes, her bustling movements and the boats gentle cacophony
the flap of the sails, the whir of the winch, assorted pleasant
The violent storm that soon descends precedes a dramatic narrative shift after the weather clears, Rike sees a fishing trawler overloaded with passengers. (Theyre between Cape Verde and Mauritania.) Because the camera continues to share her point of view and the trawler is distant enough you hear voices but cant make out faces, just bodies and frantically waving arms. Rike sends out a distress signal. Her boat is too small to save all the passengers, who she worries will panic and scramble onboard, sinking it. One voice after another answers back, a clamor of international strangers who sternly tell her to do nothing and wait for help. Rike waits and waits some more
In short order, the larger world crashes in, and a story of radical, deeply privileged individualism gives way to a potent, messy and sometimes uncomfortable parable about what human beings owe one another. The refugees are adrift on a sea of global indifference. Fischer puts a human face on the crisis through the introduction of a boy in his early teens (Gedion Oduor Weseka), who swims to Rikes boat, almost drowning. Pulling him out of the water, Rike calls him Kingsley (the name on his bracelet), and they begin a wary relationship that movingly if schematically personalizes a larger social struggle.
Fischers minimalism isnt simply a stylistic choice; its also strategic. The story of an advantaged European face to face with desperately imperiled African refugees seems tailor-made for political pieties and the dubious enshrinement of one more white savior story. For the longest time, though, Fischer, working with a script that he wrote with Ika Künzel, refuses to preach or tip his political hand. Instead he focuses on the physical dangers and bodily assaults that Kingsley and Rike endure as the voices on the radio continue promising help and the voices from the boat eerily begin to dim. Rikes stoic competence and Wolffs attractive, contained performance have led you to think that she can handle anything, a fantasy that is as reassuring as it is grimly, horrifically false.
By Manohla Dargis - New York Times