Patience (after Sebald)
UK, 82 min, 2011.
A multi-layered, highly original essay on landscape, history, art, life and loss, the film offers a unique exploration of the work of W.G. Sebald. Structured as a journey through the coastal Suffolk landscapes described in Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn – one of the most highly praised and hotly discussed literary works of recent years – the film avoids typical art documentary strategies, weaving commentaries by artists and critics such as Robert McFarlane, Rick Moody, Adam Phillips, Tacita Dean and Chris Petit into a rich aural tapestry that offers a revealing counterpoint to images of places and things described in the book. The result is not an adaptation or explanation of Sebald, but a kind of aesthetic response to his work. Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald) is a dense investigation into the mythology of the image and the authenticity of human experience. The film is a meditation over the last ten years on one of the most innovative novelists of our time, the German writer W.G. Sebald who died in a car accident in November 2001. The film follows a journey to one of the peaks of Sebald’s oeuvre: The Rings of Saturn. Sebald’s books are all accompanied by black and white photos placed in between the text and creating a generous photographic source of memory that leaves the reader either in a state of vertigo or intensified attentiveness.
As in the book, the film is a kind of pilgrimage through the East English county of Norfolk and is accompanied by Sebald’s own encounter with landscapes, the spirit of places combined with the encyclopedia of the place – its layers of history, its forgotten stories, its people and objects. All this connects the actual landscape with a kind of mental and mythological one. This doubling of Sebald’s pilgrimage organizes a kind a mental cartography – a mapping of actual places and mental spaces.
Combining interviews with people who inhabit the places, or who are inspired by Sebald’s writing, the film is in itself a contribution to a research project of spatial and existential topography. The film questions the relation between the text and the image, shattering Susan Sontag’s statement “one never understands anything from a photograph.”1