'Patience (After Sebald)' evolves into its own incredible journey
A movie review of "Patience (After Sebald)," an extraordinary documentary that explores the dynamics of author W.G. Sebald's 1995 book "The Rings of Saturn" and in many ways replicates the work's energy in cinematic terms.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Patience (After Sebald),' a documentary written and directed by Grant Gee. 82 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
Is there a cinematic precedent for Grant Gee's extraordinary documentary "Patience (After Sebald)"?
Nothing leaps to mind.
A visionary composition on a series of spoken reflections about a literary work — itself full of layered free-association — Gee's intricate, prismatic film might sound as if it must be buried in abstraction.
Yet "Patience" follows a committed path, anchored as it is in a fairly straightforward discussion about author W.G. Sebald's 1995 category-defying book "The Rings of Saturn," which describes Sebald's walking tour of England's Suffolk region and his many internal and external experiences along the way.
But like "Rings," in which the narrator's mind meanders through memories and subjects while he wanders, "Patience" visually roams in near-avant-garde fashion. Gee lyrically and playfully explores possibilities in collages of images, often subconsciously inspired by the comments of such illustrious interviewees as British theater director Katie Mitchell, poet Sir Andrew Motion and novelist Rick Moody.
Galvanized by Sebald's penchant for subtly cultivating deep themes in "Rings" despite such diverse, seemingly unrelated topics as phosphorescent fish, 17th-century author Sir Thomas Browne and silkworm cultivation, Gee repeatedly echoes and expands visual themes even as his narrative continually shifts.
After consideration of Sebald's haunting linkage of overfishing and high body counts of soldiers during war, Gee later employs archival footage from a fish factory as a metaphor for something else entirely. Such freewheeling connections are pure intuition, building toward resonance.
Also strangely effective is vintage animation of NASA's Voyager II traveling past the planet Saturn. Incredibly, the image, in context, bridges a tragic discussion about Kurt Waldheim, the Austrian diplomat revealed as a former Nazi intelligence officer, with reflections on the other Saturn, Rome's god of melancholy.
Moody describes "The Rings of Saturn" as a book that assembles itself before one's eyes. The same is true of "Patience," a film that evolves on its own terms.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org