Beyond the Sea

in 26th Panorama of European Cinema

by Giulia Dobre

How long does summer last up North? How long does a summer ardour last? How could we know when an encounter portends the ultimate truth in the economy of our lives, or whether it’s just a necessary passing?

Between the barren land and the gradually insensitive sea, Aleksandra Strelyanaya’s ”The Sea” (More) is a lyrical journey throughout the wilderness of Northern Russia and follows two young people.

They meet on the Kola Peninsula. He comes from the one-dimensional Moscow advertising world and is a youthful photographer. When sent on a project to the North Sea coast, he encounters a sunny young woman. She will become his guide all the way through the isolated fisherman’s village at the coast. They will eventually fall in love, influenced largely by a landscape that fits their ideal of love, surrounded by beauty and cinema.

The film was shot in 27 days in the autumn of 2012 on a low budget. Strelyanaya wrote the script and was also the DOP. This piece, which often converges on the boundaries of conceptual art, has superb framing, convincing actors (Taisia Krammi and Ilya Rigin) and revealing interviews and with a few black and white amateur like videos, is on the whole intensely intriguing.

The stirring atmosphere of those remote places, captivatingly shot and edited, offers the viewer a mysterious journey not only to the harsh landscape of a desolated settlement, but also to its veiled secrets. There, live mostly older people and we watch in oath their struggle with the sea. ”The Sea”, as the main character of both fiction and reality, is a sea that appoints the rhythm of their lives.

Aleksandra Strelyanaya combines here a documentary with a love story with the idea that both local customs and love fade in time.

When in Moscow studying Images, the photographer had always fantasized of the sea, of its supremacy, of its deadly appeal, of that particular kind of energy that gives, and takes away.

Summertime sees him abandoning the shallowness of the big bad town and taking a regenerating trip for breathing in the sea flavor. Documenting Kola’s people, secular life is the official pretext for a travel into his own interior landscape.

The director is not proposing an even storyline yet she fruitfully portrays the atmosphere of a disappearing world, living by an endless and windswept sea. She is sharing with us this thrilling, yet painful cruelty of their life, but also its exquisiteness, a beauty that comes from a land and a sea that engender less and less life. Fish is now scarce in these ominous waters, and the wild forests that once were shelter and hunting grounds have now completely disappeared. Green dark soft lichen has now invaded all the soil, a sort of harmonious, yet menacing response to the dark green of the motionless sea.

It is a film that on first view appears as spontaneous and improvised as the love encounter we assist to, but which in fact has been attentively developed. Just like the levels of intimacy to which the cameraman agrees, gradually, as he is always in control, always watching reality through his camera lenses, he is continously keeping the distance of a passer by and of a creator.

In these lifeless lands, nothing and no-one is born anymore. Nothing but this love, a love that oscillates between the playfullness of the wind, the unwrapping of the infinite land, and the restraint of the sea.

The photographer records the savage beauty of this slowly disappearing world through elegiac images. Ever more enthused by the landscape he sees, his relationship with the local girl is immediately intense. They are accomplices in art, she helps him in finding old homemade footage of deceased inhabitants and of their habits, and convinces other locals to be interviewed.

The girl at some point asks the dreamy cameraman (her lover), when he starts a new take: “…Are we shooting the film now, or is it just real life”. It is precisely in this alternate of styles of repeated takes, of dissimilar rythms, of dialogues and silence, that lays the grand splendor of this film.

Beyond the combination of actual interviews with the local population, and of fictional parts, we see how the relationship between the two becomes deeper, complicated, and twist into a (summer?) love affair. Will he come back? Does he love her? The girl wants more, the girl wants answers, she wants Love and Life, as opposed to the Death that continuously dwells in that hushed sea.

He answers by unmitigated silence, and the director tells it all with a final very long take that pans from a helicopter along that shore. It is a pan above the houses, the hearts and souls and spirit and dreams of people who miraculously survive in a peculiar area, midway between affection and abhorrence, amid life and death.

Edited by Steven Yates