Patience (After Sebald)

Layering voices and images into glowing “rings,” Grant Gee's Patience (After Sebald) casts light on the German writer W.G. Sebald's uncategorizable novel, The Rings of Saturn (“fiction/travel/memoir” was the best the publishers could do). It was published in English in 1998 to great acclaim but without its subheading, An English Pilgrimage, a phrase this film in its way restores. Standing witness for the book's narrator, Gee relies on static long takes, virtually unpeopled, of war ruins, crossroads, and train terminals. His camera drifts like smoke over snapshots mirrored on pages of the novel, further superimposing layers of archival footage-silkworms hatching in clusters, British bombs tumbling over German meadows-to echo the author's digressions. (A score by British musician The Caretaker adds to the haunted atmosphere.) Sebald's words are “irradiated by melancholy,” yet soothing in their integrity, reaping the alien from the specific. In voiceover, his allies and admirers puzzle out the intensity of their affection for the artistry and courage of the author, who died in a car crash in England in 2001. Mapmakers, poets, and self-described “pilgrims” who “footstep” Sebald's path across Suffolk recall Agnès Varda's gleaners and take clear-eyed pleasure in unearthing the writer's secrets. Sebald's voice also makes an appearance, in lightly German-accented English.

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