When disorientation is cinematically effective

I don’t share most audience members’ love of being disoriented by the camera in films. In trailers, however, I appreciate that the game is a little different – the director wants to give an audience member enough cause to be intrigued, but not enough material from the feature to think that they’ve already got the juicy bits out of the way. Hence trailers for comedies typically fall flat so much more often than do trailers for, say, dramas. The jokes have to be delivered in a way that’s funny in the trailer, and telling them anew in the feature means that they lose their spontaneous flair.

But I just came across this trailer for the film Leviathan (2012), which is a documentary about the fishing industry. The trailer, I think, is superb on its own merits, without telling me all that much about the film. It’s unquestionably disorienting, and I find it supremely effective.

I don’t know whether the film is supposedly shot from the perspective of a fish, or even from that of the eponymous Leviathan; I don’t know whether the Leviathan is a phantasm told as myth among the sailors, and is therefore a cinematic conceit, or whether the Leviathan is the industry itself; I don’t know whether the film paints the sailors sympathetically or pathetically; I can’t tell most of the time what on Earth is going on on the screen, but I think it’s mesmerising. In short, I really can’t say much about what direction the film takes at all, but I certainly want to go see it.

Kudos to the director. I imagine that whole classes at film school are devoted to how one packages one’s feature-length film into an intriguing two-minute clip. If so, I think this one aces it. See for yourself (apologies if the link doesn’t show up [insert typical Luddite self-deprecating note about one’s inability to use technology]):

4 thoughts on “When disorientation is cinematically effective”

  1. _In short, I really can’t say much about what direction the film takes at all, but I certainly want to go see it._

    My favorite trailers along these lines were “La Cite des Enfants Perdus” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNYG9cXTSds
    and “Dark City” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSpowoKqSzc (which, admittedly, rips off more than a few elements from LCdEP).

    Trailers for foreign movies are almost always better this way than for American, and for a simple reason: they’re usually wordless.

    Funny thing about Dark City: on the strength of this trailer, I saw it, hoping for something similarly cool and disorienting, but the first five minutes is a voiceover giving backstory. Blech.

    1. Thanks for the links. I haven’t seen either of the films you suggest, but I’ll be sure to check them out.

      However, I think neither trailer is anywhere near as compelling as the one for “Leviathan.” It’s not simply that this one is wordless; the tension and intrigue comes down to a lot more than that. Each camera shot is like coming up from the water for a breath of fresh air, before being plunged back down again. I can almost feel my hair wetly sticking to my forehead as the director pulls me back up again for each new shot. The atmosphere is palpable, but the story isn’t. How often do trailers do that? Even for the trailers you’ve posted, I can tell pretty quickly what genre they fall into: supernatural, and sci-fi. For Leviathan, I didn’t even realise it was for a documentary until I looked it up. That’s quite a feat.

  2. Once you watch the movie you’ll see that their is nothing really special about the trailer at all. I think “Leviathan” is great, but be prepared to be disoriented and to have you patience tested. It’s more Frederick Wiseman filtered through Stan Brakhage than National Geographic.

  3. I’m tired of the use of disorientation in movies, frankly. That (utterly gratuitous) loop the loop over the bridge in The Hobbit nearly had me toss my cookies, I’m prone to motion sickness. And I don’t want to have to medicate myself in advance of my arrival at the theater.

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