Kate Tessa Lee and Tom Schön’s 26-minute German production Sec Rouge sensitively documents the daily lives of octopus fisherwomen on Rodrigues, a small, hilly, volcanic island in the Indian Ocean. Just over 100 square kilometres in size, Rodrigues (pop. 42,000) lies about 500 kilometres East of Mauritius, which is itself about 2000 kilometres off the African coast; the two islands are the biggest constituents in the Republic of Mauritius, a British colony until 1968, having previously been Dutch and French for significant spells in the 17th and 18th centuries (it remains largely Francophone.)
Dubbed «Asia’s gateway to Africa», little Mauritius is currently of significant strategic interest to economic giants China and India; there’s even talk of it developing into an economic hub along the lines of Singapore. This corner of the globe nevertheless only intermittently impinges upon the attention of the wider world; it’s long been one of the great merits of documentary cinema that the form can often provide privileged glimpses of such places and people, which most viewers wouldn’t otherwise know exist.
Visually artistic and original
Herself Mauritius-born, visual artist Lee is now based in Berlin where she has been collaborating with Schön since 2015. Their works have been described as «a form of observation where reality and fiction merge,» though on the surface Sec Rouge feels like a fly-on-the-wall slice of Cinéma vérité.
We follow three fisherwomen—all of them named Marie—on dry land and on the water, where they spear the wriggling octopus through the head (location of the biggest of the intelligent creature’s nine brains) with a sharpened stick. Known as piqueuse ourite, this has been a traditional occupation for generations. It’s been a way for the women to earn a little extra money – and experience the pleasures of comradely labour – while their husbands went on fishing expeditions. This can be a hazardous pursuit («some people died without leaving traces»), even more so now thanks to the disruptive effects of climate-change: «I do not understand the language of the sea any more,» despairingly sighs one of the women.