Havarie – Philip Scheffner (2016)

What does the word “havarie” actually stand for? Originally, it is linked to ships, speaking of accidents, emergencies, and shipwrecks. But we can draw the circle a bit wider and think for a moment about the effects of the refugee crisis on Europe. What is going on here? Are we seeing the “havarie” of Europe? How about the “havarie” in people’s minds?

Philip Scheffner has created a multi-faceted film, if you’re willing to see beyond the slowed-down image of refugees in a boat. A video clip of 3:36min, extended to a ninety minute film – Havarie is a remarkable hybrid of film (or should we perhaps say image?) and radio drama. The visuals change only ever so lightly throughout the film’s running time. After a while, if you give yourself into it, if you really let go, you start to hallucinate. The almost stop-motion like movement of the image facilitates a hallucinatory state of the viewer. Seeing the same thing with little difference for such a long time is not much different from the position the refugees in their boat are in. Water is the only element that surrounds them. It all looks the same, and it must play games with the refugees’ minds. This is exactly what Scheffner achieves in the viewer’s with his slowed-down image of a tiny boat in the middle of a blue nowhere.

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I mentioned earlier that at times I had the feeling that the film was a form of radio drama. In a way, this isn’t too farfetched. Of course, the hypnotic image of refugees in a boat is important for the filmic structure. Yet what I found most expressive were the sounds, the voices, the stories told in the background. Havarie is more than just about a slowed-down image, although this may perhaps be its most characteristic attribute when written about. It’s like Lav Diaz’s films being reduced to their length. Havarie tells stories, and these stories are not only directly linked to the refugees in the boat. This is one of Scheffner’s achievement: the focused story of refugees trying to make their way to Europe (to Spain, to be exact) becomes a wider story of conflict in Europe. I remember the crew of a cargo ship. Men from different regions of the world, even from the Philippines, speak about the political situation in the Ukraine; an almost forgotten conflict that is still burning with no end in sight. The conversation between the different crew members on the audio track of the film is a reminder that what we see (and I mean, see – I mean the image) is not just 15 refugees in a boat. It is only a small part of a larger puzzle. A puzzle of conflicts, not just in the Middle East, not just in Europe, but worldwide.

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Scheffner also gives voice to the man who has filmed the video clip the director used for his film. Terry Diamond, a northern Irish man with a strong accent, describes events in Belfast in 1976, which caused the death of, among others, a young thirteen year old boy, Brian Stewart, who has become for Diamond a symbol of the conflicts in Northern Ireland. You can hear the pain in his voice while he remembers the events. These memories of “Western” events are interspersed with the story of an Algerian man and his wife, who is in France; “the sea separates me from my wife”, he says. And then there is a young man they call Wallace, because he’s the brave one, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life. In the end, what the film shows is that these stories are no different from one another. They’re human stories, and their geographical origins are of little interest. Their origin is the human being. This is what counts, and this is what people sadly forget. We all have the same dream: a better life, without war, without violence.

Scheffner’s Havarie is a must this year, if you have the chance to see it, not only because it’s dealing with a timely subject at the moment. In fact, it is a timeless film. Whether you show the film this year, or in twenty years – Havarie won’t lose any of its importance.

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