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Patience (After Sebald) | Review

Retracing Steps: Gee’s Cinematic Nod To Sebald

Patience (After Sebald) PosterDirector Grant Gee started his film career documenting the musical landscape by dabbling in music videos, and making films like the Radiohead docu-flick Meeting People Is Easy, but with Patience (After Sebald), he turns his eye to the literary world. His new cinematic essay about the late W.G. Sebald, author of the lauded 1998 novel The Rings Of Saturn, is a free form tribute to the writer that explores why his work is so highly regarded, how it came to be, and how it has affected its expansive readership while remaining centered around Sebald’s own real life foot trek which the book was based on. Through it’s black and white leaning landscapes, and overlapping interview snippets, a heartfelt experimental critique can be found, but those unfamiliar with Sebald and his work may get lost in the multi-layered cross cutting.

Visually, the story begins near the beginnings of The Rings Of Saturn where Sebald started his journey along the Suffolk Coast, which lies northeast of London, resting along the North Sea. Nearly every place mentioned in the literature is an actual location one can physically visit, so with help from an online map that has been plotted out with corresponding page numbers, Gee has documented many of these gloriously rural locations in haunting black and white. While the journey slowly progresses on screen, clips from interviews with respected writers, artists, and critics like Rick Moody, Adam Phillips, and Tacita Dean, fade in and out, giving us insight into certain sections of text, or personal memories they’ve experienced in relation to the book. Every so often Jonathan Pryce’s antiquated voice will recount passages of the text, reminding us of the incredible talent Sebald had for transmuting physical locations to the written word.

For those who have never read a word of The Rings Of Saturn, or any other work of Sebald for that matter, the picture serves as a kaleidoscopic introduction to its beauty through brief textual samplings, and an outpouring of praise from his noteworthy admirers. The barrage of images and desultory comments may not be as fulfilling to non-readers as it would to Sebald fans, but it certainly leaves the viewer wanting to track down the book with hopes of poring over it after a long walk in the countryside whether you’ve read it or not.

This textural essay film lovingly explores not only Sebald’s life and work, but also the pastoral landscapes he held so dear, as well as many people’s responses to the man and his distinctive oeuvre. While Patience (After Sebald) may not enthuse those unfamiliar with the man right off the bat, his fans will instantaneously fall in love. Grant Gee has proven he doesn’t always need rock n’ roll as his cinematic inspiration by lensing an enveloping reconnaissance of an unheralded literary icon that will surely find a new audience thanks to this canonizing docu-essay that calls back to the work of Chris Marker.

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