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on 23 May 2015
Objects in the rings of Saturn are scattered, diffuse, in constant motion, broken debris from asteroids and comets that have been orbiting the planet aimlessly and steadily for over four billion years. The journey in eternal circles goes nowhere, which for Sebald forms an irresistible image of wandering and its accompaniments — dislocation, exile, rootlessness, loss and homelessness. A child of the German wandervögel, he wanders as existential guide through such debris here on Earth — through history, landscapes, aesthetics and ideas, an itinerant philosopher-poet with a desire to roam, witness and remember.

The film is exemplary in its attempt to bring the nuances, peculiarities and difficulties of Sebald's writing to the screen. Its narrative is non-linear, its voiceovers sensitive and insightful, its cinematography dreamy, soft-focussed and full of dissolves, one form flowing into another, the sky merging with the sea, for instance, as if to say the only borders we see in the world are those we create and imagine. In this way the film is faithful to Sebald's mind and spirit.

It's often been said that he was a ghostly sort of writer, that he wrote about lost and missing things — things scattered from memory by time or by willful acts of denial or obfuscation. If so, the film takes advantage of this by showing the odd connecting points his mind made while wandering. For instance, he sees Norfolk, the ground over which he treads, as an extension of the old geological and geographical Germany. Long, long ago when the land was connected, long before there was a Channel, East Anglia was the mouth of the Rhine. The water to the east is not the North Sea in his mind; it is the old German Sea which washes against his old ancestral homeland. He is a wanderer and stranger in Britain, yet he is not. To the extent there can be any home on Earth for one, he's at home in Norfolk, in the old ancient realm of the Angles, Saxons and Norsemen. His sense of things — lands, landscapes, peoples, time — is fluid. Thus if his writing flows like a river between points in time and place, the film does too in a beautiful dreamy way. If you are quiet, mindful and patient, it sweeps you along, just as Sebald's books do.

There is joy in this because this is what beauty does to us. It makes us happy. But there is sadness too, a lamentation for loss — the hopeless destruction made by war, the ravages of landscapes made by human ideas and desires, the loss of places and homes, including homelands. Home is really an emotion, not a place. It's what we feel for something valuable and defining, for the things that make our identity. It could be anything: our old school, the fields and trees we played in as children with our friends, our bedroom, the town square now gone, covered by a car park and shopping centre. For Sebald modern Germany was the lost domain. He belonged to another Germany, perhaps the Germany Goethe had enjoyed, rather than to one divided by a wall and Cold War politics.

He wasn't at home in the silence of modern Germany either, in a past of which no one would speak openly. He called it a conspiracy of silence among the adults, a great taboo no one had the courage to touch. He had to discover the holocaust by himself, he said, and when he did he was astonished, mortified, ashamed. Where could he go to bury and honour the dead? What could he do? His solution was to go inward, and to England, and to ghostly, hallowed places in his mind. It's as if he wrote his books for the millions of departed souls, as though he wanted to reach out to them with his own comforting sorrow and pity. Wandering for him was a way of coming to terms with memory and history.

Film, naturally, is the art of the visual. How, then, to sensitively portray the inner world of a writer, the realm of writerly ideas? It's difficult, of course, and probably never fully possible. Reading a writer is what should be done. There in a book your own imagination creates worlds only suggested by the words. But film has a right to try. This one does and I think succeeds as well as may be thought possible. I feel Sebald's spirit in it. I see his ideas represented — ideas understood and appreciated by the filmmaker and all who took part in the film. Also, the film does not lecture to us; it invites us in. To the extent we can, we are allowed to enter the mind of a truly great writer. It's wonderful that this film was made. I believe it would have made him happy.
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on 4 December 2013
This is captivating. If you love reading Sebald this film captures his writing to perfection.
Fabulous journey with an atmosphere you will never forget.
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on 25 May 2012
I had read 'Rings of Saturn' and I come from East Anglia so I was bound to go for a film based on Sebald's book. Will this make sense without a review of the book too? I'm not sure. I won't go into it here, but the book is weird, very personal, goes off in many different directions but is totally fascinating. The film has the same sort of free-ranging weirdness and includes interesting insights into Sebald from writers and friends.
If you have read the book then, in my estimation, the film will hugely complement it. If you see the film first it will probably make you want to read the book but it might just put you off.
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on 4 May 2013
This film takes itself seriously (too seriously?): some Sebald fans will no doubt be glad of it, in a completist sense. I love Sebald's writing yet still hated the pretensions of this film about him and his work. The film-makers are the kind who hide behind the cover of saying they aren't making films but are making "art", an excuse for not having much skill imho. I'd prefer a well-made traditional BBC doc on Sebald rather than this "piece" that has taken state subsidy (ie my money) to get finished. Only didn't give it one star because one respects the ambition.
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on 2 June 2012
Patience (After Sebald) is a highly evocative film which captures the quiet, uncanny melancholy of Sebalds's book, The Rings of Saturn. Some of the text of the book is read as a voice-over as the camera scans scenes described by Sebald in his pilgrimage across the coastal plains of Suffolk. Sebald's own voice is also occasionally heard as he talks about his own work. Poets and artists also describe the techniques that he uses to produce the effects that the book evokes. The film ends with a rather strange photographic transformation at the place of Sebald's sudden death where smoke from a firework gradually transforms into an image of his doleful face, heavy with eyebrows.

Sebald is one of the most interesting German writers to emerge since the Second World War. He supervised the translations of his work into English himself so, although his work is German in origin, the English versions have the same authority as the original German. His work owes a great deal to writers in the German tradition such as Kafka and Walter Benjamin but also to Freud's psychological insights into aesthetics and to the phenomenological tradition that featured at the University of Freiburg when Sebald was a student there in the 1960's.

Anybody who has been fascinated and captivated by Sebald's writing, particularly The Rings of Saturn will find this DVD a satisfying supplement to their of Sebald's books - which, because of his untimely death in 2001, will remain forever sparse.
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on 3 July 2013
Lovers of W.G.Sebald's novels and essays will find this tiresome plodding and meandering film without much point to it unless you have recently graduated from some provincial art school with a third in film making. On the rare occasions when you actually hear the late author's beautiful voice (speaking in English with a mild German intonation) you are reminded that this is a film ostensibly about a truly talented and gifted writer, that it purports in part to be a hommage and a poetic eulogy to his metaphysical journeying. At least this is what I thought it would be when I purchased the film. Instead, it is overly long and incredibly boring with long pseudo experimental split screen techniques overlaid with some odious old luvvie reading chunks of Sebald's work. To label the film a triumph of style over content would be highly accurate as it lumbers ponderously on and on with many the introduction of many BBC lilting thespian voices reading and muttering text overlaid with slow panning shots of the moody East Anglian countryside and coastline shot in attractive chiaroscuro. Invariably, the film lacks any cohesion or intellectual gravitas, and the ability to hold its viewers attention is diminshed by its reliance on split/mutliple screen images to evoke something like meaning. Sadly it cannibalises itself as it becomes immersed in long and drawn out experimental editing and post production gimmicks no doubt, to compensate for its own appalling lack of originality. It is excruciatingly dull and not a tribute to a highly original writer but a pastiche of egomaniacal pretension that comes close to onanism on screen.
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on 28 March 2017
Intriguing old school film, with a freaky ending!
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on 13 March 2016
Reverential, slow, at one point 'uncanny' (one of the many themes touched on) and 'poetic' film essay with various contributors telling us about this clearly troubled genius with an allergy to alcohol despite all the pubs he visited along the way on his 'pilgrimage' in Suffolk. His view of the world is of existential despair at what we have done, and will do inevitably to bring about our doom and return to dust, silt, sand, spume etc. Not a travelogue.
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on 9 July 2012
There's a damning moment in this disappointing film when Iain Sinclair points out how crass it would be to recreate the journey of _The Rings of Saturn_. Clearly, this remark was made late in the production process, because it retrospectively demolishes Grant's whole project. As thevulturespeaks says, the last ten minutes are particularly poor: Jeremy Millar's naff 'Fireworks for Sebald' is tastelessly intercut with an image of Sebald, implying that Millar's final image manifests the ghostly likeness of Sebald. It's a knee-weakeningly risible moment, which must have horrified some of the participants. Read MacFarlane, Sinclair, Dean and even Moody on Sebald, and give this well-meaning but intellectually inadequate film a wide berth.
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on 3 July 2012
Following in the footsteps of the narrator of W G Sebald's extraordinary work The Rings of Saturn sadly makes for a most pedestrian experience.
The film is disappointing on so many levels that it left me, as an admirer of Sebald's books, angered and profoundly depressed but, sad to say, not really surprised, given the British tendency to reduce all forms of cultural enterprise to the level of a National Trust magazine feature. One wonders whether director Grant Gee thought at all about the medium he was using or what 'a documentary film' actually means; surely the opportunity was there to explore in a Sebaldian way - allusively, tangentially, playfully - Sebald's extraordinary text and its impact on a generation of artists. Instead, we have a film which is earnest but wearisome; leaden-footed, and deeply unimaginative. Why, for example, are all the people interviewed either British or American? Given that Sebald was German, and wrote in German, achieved literary fame first in Germany and given that his subject, by and large, was the 'tacit conspiracy' of silence in post-war Germany, would it not have been worthwhile to talk to some Germans? It says something about the film's cosily insular outlook - something Sebald repeatedly and pointedly pokes fun at - that even though much is made of his European sensibility, and his work's Nobel Prize-worthy international resonance, the only German accent we hear belongs to Sebald himself. And even though Sebald's highly distinctive and exciting way of creating meaning and of questioning the value of documentary 'evidence' is exactly what all the people in the film are talking about, Gee seems to imagine that a series of images of the places Sebald mentions (rendered somehow more 'meaningful' or 'poetic' by being in black and white, or blurry, or wobbly, or all three) and some close-ups of the pages of the book, somehow magically add up to a worthwhile enterprise. They don't. They add up to some rather dull pictures to go with some rather dull talking and some rather dull music. The people interviewed have, with a few honourable exceptions, very little interesting or perceptive to say about the book, being largely content to try to explain how it works (as if we, as readers, had somehow missed this) how good it is (ditto) or, even more boringly, 'what it meant to them'. The film would probably be so boring for someone who has not already read The Rings of Saturn to sit through that it would put them off Sebald for life, and for those who have read the book it adds absolutely nothing to the experience beyond, perhaps, a sense of wonder that such a magical work can be made to seem so dull. Bewilderingly, Gee even gives space to some deluded individuals who think that by 'mapping' the places Sebald mentions they are doing something other than vapidly parasitizing his work. But their contribution seems positively scintillating in comparison with a final sequence discussing Sebald's untimely death which is as tasteless as it is pretentious.The absence of any adequate critical or artistic engagement with Sebald's work on the part of either the contributors or the film-maker is, given the intellectual generosity and fertility of its subject, profoundly dispiriting.
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