Sark, Small World
The Netherlands 2002, 55 min.
Sark is an old-fashioned film that would probably sell well in Sark’s tourist information office.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. It’s an unaffected observation of the island of Sark (three miles long and one mile wide, off the South of England or the North of France, depending how you look at it), a portrait of a pleasant landscape, a few of its mildly eccentric English citizens and their wacky constitution. If you’re looking for drama or show-off filmmaking, this title isn’t for you: there’s no attitude, no visual FX, no nudity, virtually no narrative, no twists, no revelations and no car chases (there are no cars on the island of Sark). The Queen of England puts in a cameo appearance, but don’t hold your breath.
What makes this film so delightful is that within its own self-imposed constraints, it is just beautifully crafted. Every single shot is well composed, the music track is spare and tactful, the editing is nicely-timed yet unobtrusive, the approach towards the characters is humane and non-judgmental. There’s an irresistible purity to the overall effect. It’s true that the film feels old fashioned, but some qualities never go out of style.
Though Sark is a British island, I doubt very much that a UK documentary maker would ever turn out a film like this. For one thing, our UK broadcasters seem too addicted to nudity/scoop/handheld tradition to commission this sort of gentle fare; but more importantly I reckon, it needed an outsider, like the Dutch director Joost Seelen, to have the confidence that a simple ‘anthropological’ portrait of a little corner of Britain would be enough to hold an audience’s attention, unembroidered by any flashy tricks. He was right.
Sark leaves me feeling not stirred, but charmed.