For those of you who are not familiar with the previous work of André Semenza and Fernanda Lippi (which meant you have not seen 2003’s Ashes of God), a warning about Sea Without Shore – this is not a narrative film. A quick look at the film’s wonderful trailer will show you that this is an experimental piece, and a daring and ambitious one, for all that matter.
Two women dressed in ghostly white – or broken and dirty silk lace – live in a nightmarish in-temporal space where Nature and Time are titular characters by their own right. The soundscape envelops them like water, while the two women, Pre-Raphaelitic Ophelias, drown in their own memories, dreams and frustrations. There is no possibility of narrative, but the spectator finds herself/himself in the presence of raw emotion, and feels the past, present and future without being delivered to the shore of a safe, banal chronology. Love and sex are expressed by rhythmic, animal-like choreographies, and there’s no need of explanation – you know what they are doing, even if their frenetic bodies never touch. Symbols, images, movement and sounds – the film is entirely built around these usually secondary elements, that find in Semenza’s and Lippi’s film their central stage.
Lippi, who is also in front of the camera for this film (we restrain from using the term acting, as she is more a presence than a character), exposes her emotions and process with intensity, while Livia Rangel little has to do but to appear on the screen and look beyond the fourth wall at us, such is the charisma of her unique traits. They barely speak – only one word is heard from their lips during the whole film – but a voice-over whispers poetry by (16th century lesbian) Katherine Philips, Renée Vivien and Algernon Charles Swinburne, in a construction of sensorial fragments that appeal to the senses of touch, smell and hearing.
The strongest point of Sea without Shore is, without a doubt, its sound – with sound design by award winning Glenn Freemantle and original soundtrack by The Hafler Trio (that used sounds from the cast during rehearsals as starting point for the soundscape). This ambitious film, however, does not have the emotional, immersive impact one would expect from the authors of Ashes of God ; its boldness deserves recognition notwithstanding its flaws and our understanding is that this may be the precursor of a new wave of anti-narrative, dance-based cinema.
Sea Without Shore is now out in selected UK cinemas.