Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Patience (After Sebald)

It’s fitting that a post about Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) is written on the last day in which the movie is screened--alas, will Film Forum ever bring this treasure back? Thus the reader of the blog is able to feel the sense of something which both exists and doesn’t exist, which is just one of the many themes of the film. Patience is an attempt to retrace the steps of W.G. Sebald’s now iconic The Rings of Saturn, his l992 recollection of a walk he took around Suffolk. The notion of the uncanny is a recurring theme in the film, which introduces us to Rick Moody, Andrew Motion, Barbara Hui (a scholar who  uses satellite photos to create a sense of connection between all the places that Sebald cites in the book and who introduces the l7th century physicianThomas Browne’s Quincunx Board into the discussion), Adam Phillips, the psychoanalyst, and a number of other scholars, publishers and artists who share a fixation on Sebald’s work. The uncanny, or Unheimlichkeit was a word used by both Freud and Heidegger and it literally means not feeling at home. Sebald is quoted as saying the one place he ever felt at home was the I'isle de St. Pierre on Lake Biel in Switzerland, where Rousseau also lived, which was a little like the Ark (or really half the Ark) to the extent that there was one of everything: one farmhouse, one field, one fence. One of the commentators remarks that the concept of home is really non-existent. It’s a children’s idea. Certainly a place where there is only one or even two of everything is. The grainy black and white photos of the places Sebald passes through (recalling the grainy photos from the original book) are intermixed with color inlays which give a sense of the film’s present act of retracing. Sebald was born in Germany in l944 and lived his adult life in England (before dying in a car crash in 2001). The memory of both psychic and physical devastation of the Second World War and its horrific antecedents never left him. Obviously there are other Germans who immigrated to England after the war and who do not walk the countryside experiencing a world of haunted associations in which the shell of recognition is peeled away from familiar objects. But then again these other Germans or their English counterparts, who have moved to Berlin or Munich or the Bavarian countryside, are not W.G. Sebald.

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