“The film succeeds even in its most hazardous scene: the long-awaited underwater confrontation, which may be real or only in Lena’s head but is above all things a sight to behold, both stunning and moving.”
Lena, 12 years old and living in Oostende on the Belgian seaside, forms a seemingly inseparable trio with her father, a fisherman, and the North Sea. The opening sequence of Sea Sparkle (Zeevonk)conveys the strong connection of the three through a beautifully composed and lit shot of father and daughter on the beach, facing the sea and in harmony with it. So when her dad dies, Lena’s existence shatters even more violently since this is the sea that took his life. One tip of the triangle turned against another, leaving Lena all alone with no one or nothing to lean on. This sudden crash of her life is expressed by the abrupt cut in the editing of the movie, as we pass unexpectedly from Lena’s daily happy life to her father’s funeral via an ellipsis that seems to engulf the movie in the same way the sea swallowed her dad’s body.
Lena is left alone with her grief and her disbelief, unable to cope with the tragedy by way of rationalization, as the adults around her say it was an accident or a human error – either way something that, sadly, happens to fishermen at times – or acceptance, when her best friend Kaz, whose father was also on the boat, decides to focus on her fond family memories through the realization of a photo album. The sea was her one true love, she sailed on it, dived in it, even remodelled her room with pale blue lights (once again in this scene, the cinematography is exquisite) to feel like the deep seabed. But the sea has turned its back on her, inciting her to engage in a quest for meaning and revenge, her very own Moby Dick: the way she sees it, it could not have been anything other than a marine monster that caused her father’s boat to capsize.
Probably because Sea Sparkle is based on a similar tragedy in the life of its director Domien Huyghe and his sister and co-writer Wendy (their father died twenty years ago, when they were in their teens), this quest is quite cleverly adapted by the screenplay to Lena’s teenage world scale, to her capacities and her fears. This includes the most recent, and sadly genuine, fear of our times about global warming, which in the movie leads to the appearance near Oostende of dangerous tropical jellyfish. In Lena’s opinion, their presence becomes one of the ‘proofs’ that her theory is well-founded. Hence she puts everything she has on the line, her convictions, her ideas, her scarce resources (as no adult is willing to assist her), to find the sea creature which she so eagerly wishes to be real. Growing more and more obsessed and enraged, she becomes the Captain Ahab of her underage crew, all of whom are beautifully embodied by a cast of newcomers led by the impressive Saar Rogiers in the main role. Along with their interpretations, the narration and directing of Huyghe is powerful enough to get us involved from start to finish in Lena’s endeavor, even though from our adult point of view it looks like a delusion. The film succeeds even in its most hazardous scene: the long-awaited underwater confrontation, which may be real or only in Lena’s head but is above all things a sight to behold, both stunning and moving.
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