Berlinale 2021 review: From the Wild Sea (Robin Petré)

You know the ordeal of having to get a cat into its basket so that you can take it to the vet? Well, now imagine doing the same thing with a wild seal, injured and traumatized, and you will have a glimpse of the work done by volunteers of the marine animals rescue organizations followed in their duties by documentarist Robin Petré in her movie From the Wild Sea. Coming from Denmark, she went all over the coasts of Northern Europe (England, Ireland, Netherlands) to see how charities in these countries try to fix part of the harm done to sea wildlife by human activity.

The Anthropocene (the term acknowledging that we now live in a geological era where human impact on Earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity prevails over other factors) and climate change are a given in the film. There is no more need to demonstrate their existence than there is a chance to keep away from them, the same way it seems impossible for marine animals to stay clear of the monstrous cargo ships seen roaming the oceans. Shots of such vessels filling the entire screen constitute one of the two recurring motifs in From the Wild Sea; the other motif is the weather forecasts issuing warnings for storms, each more violent than the last. There is not just one storm coming, but multiple storms.

As a result of these two types of human aggression, one direct and the other indirect, wild animals get lost, harmed, stranded. The men and women appearing in From the Wild Sea tend to them the same way human refugees from catastrophic events are taken care of: they heal their wounds, they feed them and they give them shelter. All along this process, the camera keeps staring at the animals with their human caretakers mostly off-screen. The seals and the swans are the main protagonists of the film, in which each of them exists as an individual being – thus creating a bond stronger than when endangered species are considered as a whole, when their members become ill-defined and anonymous.

Humans do not appear on screen even when they are asked by Petré to display the evidence collected from rescued animals they could not save. What the audience sees on camera during those short and formal presentations are exclusively the objects that caused the animals’ wounds – forming another kind of bond, as all these items are man-made little pieces of plastic or metal, deadly to whatever ingests them. From the Wild Sea ends by showing one last animal found stranded on a beach, on a whole other scale: a whale. It is bigger than ten human beings, but still as vulnerable and helpless as the swans and the seals are against our increasing impact on nature.