Dreams about sea come mostly to people of plains and forests, cities and countries – places which the smell of salt and iodine reaches out only through a home cinema screen or paper books. Who knows, maybe it’s actually better to live away from the sea, to be in constant anticipation of meeting with it, and to thoroughly lay out the scent of aquamarine, note by note. Perhaps not always being close to the sea is worth it, since it is the only way to be sure we won’t lose the sense of it.
The sub-essence, sub-surface power and ponderous permanence of the sea attracts an unaccustomed eye and disarms it. But how can one get through this endless time away from the sea? Today, we will discuss several films and books through which the audience can easily commit a desired voyage to the sea in 10 minutes’ time.
Michael Radford ‘The Postman/Il Postino’
Destination: An Italian island of Procida in the Bay of Naples.
Travel time: 108 minutes.
Lying barely 3 kilometers from the mainland, an Italian island of Procida (the smallest and least touristy island in the Bay of Naples) is known for its charm. It has been featured in a number of films, including the classic ‘The Postman’ and ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley.’
Cinematic minimalism delicately flavoured with verbal and visual metaphors is one major aspect thatcharacterises ‘The Postman.’ The film depicts the journey of the main character, Mario, towards self-discovery through his friendship with amous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a communist who fought for world unity and peace, persecuted in his country and forced to seek refuge in the island. Mario works as a postman for the poet, and attempts to get to know Neruda and to find his own poetic voice.
The appeal of the film’s remote, sun-kissed setting is difficult to define in words. Therefore, when Neruda asks Mario to say something special about the island, Mario cannot find the right words. Only at the end of the film, at the highest point of dramatic tension, Mario ‘paints’ a sound portrait of the island. He records the voices: of small waves, of big waves, of wind at the cliffs, of sad fishing nets, of starry island sky, creating his own ‘Song for Pablo Neruda.’
Throughout the film, the sea, its physical beauty and spiritual essence, forms not just a backcloth to the story of the friendship between Neruda and Mario, but becomes the protagonist of the film. The sea develops into the central figure of the narrative, turning into Mario’s materialised poetic voice.
When Neruda returns to the island some years later, he learns that Mario is dead, and listens to the sound poem that Mario composed especially for him. The camera moves away from the shore into a wide shot, so that the figure of the poet gradually becomes smaller, dissolving in the vastness of the sea.
Eric Rohmer ‘A Summer’s Tale’
Destination: Gorgeous beaches in the Atlantic side of France, Brittany (Dinard, Saint-Malo, Saint-Briac, Saint Lunaire, Saint-Cast Le Guildo, Saint-Jacut-De-La-Mer)
Travel time: 113 minutes.
Director Eric Rohmer has been described as a ‘writer in cinema,’ the actors and the setting is a ‘moving life.’ What makes the cinema of Eric Rohmer special is that it is not an audiovisual art in the classical sense, but rather a visual and a verbal living canvas: the setting has nothing to do with characters or verbal action in the film.
In ‘A Summer’s Tale’ the actors move freely within a splendid sea scenery, breathe in the salty air of summer, and think out loud while walking, eating, and dancing on the living aquarelle of a marine painter Eric Rohmer.
The regisseur has the camera move to show the characters’ movements without changing the frame, simulating the movements of a gaze. That is how we observe the seascapes of Brittany while listening to long-lasting, thought-provoking dialogues of the characters.
But wait! The first 7 minutes of the film come as a surprise, with a total lack of verbal speech – for 430 seconds the protagonist is in silent communion with the sea.
Sand and seawater in ‘A Summer’s Tale’ possess a solid, tactile quality – the viewer almost gets goosebumps when observing the wet sand grains and chilly atlantic sea waves. Those of the spectators who do not get pleasure from philosophizing, will definitely enjoy a visual trip to the gorgeous beaches of Brittany.
Alexander Sokurov ‘Elegy of a Voyage’
Destination: From Russian snows through the black waves of the North Sea into the painting of Peter Saenredam ‘St. Mary’s Square’ at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.
Travel time: 48 minutes.
Why do some people dream of the sea? Because the ‘sea’ is a sort of materialized, achievable paradise, known and real. For Alexander Sokurov the ‘sea’ (read ‘dream of paradise’) is the painting of Peter Saenredam ‘St. Mary’s Square’, that comes true at the end of his voyage and which, as it turns out, he had known all his life, even long before he was born.
The journey of this protagonist occurs through the snow waves of his childhood village in Siberia, in the chilly moonlight across the dark sea of white trees bent under the weight of snow blankets, over the black coffee waves of the marginal North Sea, against pointillistic wet strokes of snowflakes… The narrator takes a trip from the frigid silence of the present into the warming voices of the past, flitting between the two worlds: reality and art.
The viewer dives into the sea of the 16th-century Dutch paintings, obediently following the steps of Sokurov. A ship arrives after a long separation, people ford the sea to meet their loved ones – comprehensible happiness, simple joy. Then, silence, rarely broken by a sea wave. On the next painting is a boat, full of people. The sea of voices fulfills the canvas. Afterwards, another one: windows, windows, windows, then slowly from a close-up to a wide shot – the Tower of Babel appears. Suddenly, the warm wave envelops the room: the feather clouds are trembling on ‘St. Mary’s Square.’ The sky breathes over the dead world underneath.
This film will certainly satisfy a spectator yearning for a voyage through time and space. Voyage à deux with Alexander Sokurov, a Russian genius of the cinema.
Marcel Proust ‘In Search of Lost Times’
Destination: Cabourg (Normandy, France)
Travel time: 7-volume novel, 4,215 pages
We are sitting at Balbec beach, a beach without equal when it comes to history. Balbec is a fictional prototype of Cabourg, a town near the sea in the Basse-Normandie region of France, where Proust spent summers at the Grand Hôtel.
We are back in time, when the fashion of sea bathing spread like wildfire among the aristocracy. There is no other beach in the world where tourists wear not just swimming suits, but bathing costumes. It is the only resort town where people are dressed most of the time, rather than naked. Moreover, they’re well-dressed!
The four peaceful kilometers of seafront setting include a local casino, where a bridge championship takes place at the height of the season, and where men are not allowed in shorts; individual beach cabanas bearing the names of the owners can be booked for half a year before the onset of the season; private Victorian villas feature chic tennis courts; and at about seven in the evening magnificent horses start their promenade along the racecourse at edge of the sea, and the dawning sun paints them in impressionists’ colors.
In the afternoon, before tea-time, we are sitting at the Grand Hôtel’s balcony, watching the sea and listening to Proust: ‘I have always tried while observing the sea to remove from my sight not only the people bathing on the foreground, but also the yachts with their bright white sails, reminiscent of the white holiday costumes, and everything else that distracted me from believing that in front of me are those everlasting waves that have been rolling here one after the other, full of mysterious life, long before the appearance of the human race.’
Yann Andrea ‘Cet amour-là’
Destination: Trouville (Normandy, France)
Travel time: 150 pages
Two characters, famous French 66-year-old writer Marguerite Duras and her 28-year-old lover Yann Andrea, are drinking wine. They are here, in the room of the hotel ‘Les Roches Noires’ in Trouville. It is a beautiful luxe room with two bathrooms at the 19th century palace, where young Marcel Proust regularly stayed with his grandmother before they moved to ‘Grand Hotel’ in Cabourg. Proust’s rented a room overlooking the sea. The characters of ‘Cet amour-là’ prefer the other side. For them, to see the sea all day and all night is not appealing. When they want to enjoy the view they go downstairs to the legendry hall of ‘Les Roches Noires’. There, they sit in big chairs surrounded by mirrors, in front of the large open French windows overlooking the Atlantic.
At night, they walk. Always following the same route: either in the direction of Honfleur or towards Cabourg. Sometimes, they go for a ride to Le Havre to watch the sea, the ships, the seagulls, and to breathe the air. They drive by her Peugeot 104, singing ‘Blue Moon,’ a song played everywhere at that time on the piano, sung in all vehicles on all roads of Normandy. Then they return to the hotel to write another book of hers. It lasts for 16 years, until she must go forever to the cemetery of Montparnasse to see the sea, to reach the ends of the earth, to throw herself into all the oceans at once, to leave the world in order to take another long journey before reaching the dream.
By Marina Kazakova
Marina Kazakova is a transmedia researcher, poetry visualizer, and a writer. She graduated from the department of Transmedia of ‘Sint Lukas University Brussels’ with an art-based research thesis on ‘How to Visualize Poetry.’ Currently, she runs her own artistic production «Seanema».