Sea Without Shore – a cinematic hymn to loss

film-pavdanceLOSING someone you love is always painful. Losing the love of your life, your soulmate, is immeasurably, infinitely painful – the subject of paintings, poetry, novels and plays over the centuries.

But cinema generally struggles with the bleakness – not because the medium cannot convey loss, but because it is a hard sell. The perception for most films, even many arthouse films, is that they must have some commercial prospects. Not surprising. Film is a very expensive business. But Pavilion Dance is a unique arthouse cinema, because it is also the regional home of contemporary dance – and Sea Without Shore is a very unusual film.

The film, directed by Andre Semenza and dancer, artist and film-maker Fernanda Lippi, founders of the Anglo-Brazilian physical theatre company Zikzira, is a visual poem, a poignant and heart-breaking study of loss and the way it can take you out of this ordinary world of speech and colour.

Sea Without Shore uses dance and movement without words, beautiful cinematography, dramatic and remote settings in a crumbling Swedish country house, dark forests and frozen lakes, a complex and layered soundtrack of found sound, natural movements and music (much of it composed by the avant-garde Hafler Trio), and voice-over readings from three poets. Through these various strands, interwoven and overlaid, and broken up with an occasional black screen that adds to the hypnotic intensity, Sea Without Shore conveys the sense of utter desolation and disconnectedness which overtakes a young woman when her soul-mate suddenly dies.

Sunshine illuminates their happiness, cycling through the fields and woodlands, sitting in flower-filled meadows chattering animatedly, gazing placidly over the dappled lake and swimming, side by side, head to toe, fingers and toes barely touching in the still clear water.

Increasingly the calm and joy of their life together is inter-cut with scenes in the house where the woman in the lace dress repeatedly throws herself onto the floor or against the wall, pulls at her clothes and gazes blankly into space. The dance movements evoke images of Pina Bausch’s celebrated Tanzteater Wuppertal (definitely a high compliment!)

As grief consumes her, she passes through both panic and inertia, sometimes lying motionless on the floor, sometimes running through the woods and across the frozen lake in a blizzard, her all-but-lifeless body gathered up by forest women and slung over a sturdy forest pony. Patterns of snow, leaves, footsteps in the snow and repeated shreds of music heighten the sense of utter emptiness.

And the words – from 17th century English lesbian poet Katherine Phillips, and the late 19th century Renee Vivian and Algernon Swinburne – provide an elegant and emotional commentary on the themes of love and

It would be foolish to recommend this film to anyone who wants to be entertained in any conventional sense. It is immensely powerful and quite beautiful. It is so intense it hurts. But I wouldn’t have missed it and would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who loves contemporary dance and the ability of movement, landscape and sound to express feelings that run too deep for words.

Sea Without Shore received its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival at the end of February and has so far only been shown at the Barbican, the ICA and Pavilion Dance. Visit the website for news of future of screenings.


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