Patience: A melancholy picture
In his new film essay Patience (After Sebald) director Grant Gee presents a multi-layered discovery of the works of German author WG Sebald. Using a type of data mapping format, Gee structures the film by shadowing Sebald’s footsteps through East Anglia for his most famous novel The Rings of Saturn.
As Gee explained, the film, in its most foetal form, began as an examination of the artist’s response to place. As a novel which is grounded in geography, The Rings of Saturn provides a perfect foundation from which the mental constellation of Sebaldean thought can begin to be explored. Using footage of the real landscapes, the black and white moving images colour the continuing discussion of the author’s epic life and works from Sebaldean experts and personal acquaintances.
The film begins with an explanation of Sebald’s resistance to being constricted by classification into one type of literary genre. Sebald saw his work as more of an encyclopaedic voyage and this is reflected in the nature of the film, which uses specificity of landscape and subjective experiences in order to investigate a multitude of musings on the oblique nature of the world.
In a typically Sebaldean fashion, there was no direct confrontation with these issues; both Gee and a number of others who had recreated the walk realised very swiftly that a literal attempt to rationalise Sebald’s thought process was not appropriate. Although the landscape comprises a large majority of the novel and indeed of the film, it becomes clear that it is merely a backdrop. Ultimately Sebald could have been walking anywhere; what the film tries to understand is the method by which he particularised the importance of a specific place by appealing to the chaos, fear and meaninglessness in the universe.
The film’s meandering structure follows in the footsteps of The Rings of Saturn; it does not lead you, it requires the patience that is mentioned in the title. The juxtaposition of images seems to echo the apparently random juxtaposition of everything in life, a premise which catalysed Sebald’s systematic melancholy. This melancholy, fittingly ruled by the planet Saturn, emerges from Sebald’s and indeed humanity’s cursed inability to represent the entirety of the world and to understand everything that is seemingly random but yet inextricably and inescapably linked in horrifying ways.
This film is beautifully constructed and offers an interesting delving into one of the biggest literary cult figures of our time. Even if you are previously not a Sebald follower, the investigation of different approaches to rationalising the enigmatic universe we inhabit is one that grips throughout. The only negative aspect of the film was that at 90mins, there were parts which were slow and at times particularly heavy. It does require patience and the ending leaves a slightly unfulfilling taste of “OK, now what?” However, a statement beamed out at me from the film, and it is as true to Patience as it is to The Rings of Saturn; you somehow don’t care that you’re being led nowhere because you learn so much along the way.
Patience (After Sebald) is playing at the ICA Trafalgar Square 27 January 2012 – 2 February 2012
Tickets £10 / £8 Concessions / £7 ICA Members