Cannes 2017: Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow

On Film / The Daily — May 21, 2017

Sea Sorrow, premiering Out of Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, is Vanessa Redgrave’s directorial debut. “A heartfelt, formally messy documentary about the international refugee crisis, the movie is largely a plea for compassion and action,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Although its message is fairly simple, Ms. Redgrave at times seems to be searching for the best way to express it as she jumps from archival images to interviews and protests. In some of the strongest passages, she turns to Shakespeare, using a section from The Tempest delivered by Ralph Fiennes to speak of exile, suffering, a ‘rotten carcass of a boat’ and a sea-sorrow that is appallingly relevant.”

“Clunky though not uninteresting in its assembly,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times, “and admirably direct in its anger and passion, the film features interviews with migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Guinea and elsewhere, as well as direct-to-camera narration from Redgrave, who speaks of everything from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to her own refugee status as a child forced to flee London during World War II. . . . The stirring result is the very definition of a film with its heart in the right place, even when its art isn’t.”

“Sincere, sometimes impressionistic and formally naive, Redgrave’s 72-minute cri de coeur feigns neither tough investigative nous nor lofty aesthetic artistry,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “Shot on rudimentary digital, it’s more extended PSA than cinema, but one senses the filmmaker herself knows her message outranks her method.”

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich suggests that Sea Sorrow is “essentially the negative image of Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea. Redgrave’s film is as direct as Rosi’s film is impressionistic, her plea as haphazard as his is elegant. Of course, the world is wide enough to support both approaches, and the situation is dire enough to demand them.”

Interviews with Redgrave: Dalya Alberge (Guardian), Xan Brooks (Observer), Wendy Mitchell (Screen), and Damon Wise (Deadline).

Update, 5/22: Variety’s Nick Vivarelli has a few questions for Redgrave.

Cannes 2017 Index. For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.