An anecdote, recounted early on in Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012), regarding the German-born writer and scholar W.G. Sebald, refers to his response when asked which genres he wanted his books to listed in – biography, fiction, travel, criticism, etc. Sebald asked that his work be included in every section, because he felt that it belonged equally to every genre, and equally to none of them. Inevitably, Gee’s film about the author defies labelling as much as its subject.
Generally speaking, there are three broad categories into which films are divided: mainstream fiction, documentary and experimental/arthouse – and Patience (After Sebald) doesn’t fit any of them. Gee’s film is more like an essay than a documentary, as each point is made and supported by quotations from various sources (in this case, from a variety of scholars, critics and authors familiar with Sebald and his writing) commenting on the author’s technique and influences. Interspersed in the audio track between the discursive remarks are extracts from his book, The Rings of Saturn.
Visually, Patience (After Sebald) is enigmatic to say the least, comprised largely of black and white footage of the landscapes and locations described by the narrator of The Rings of Saturn, as video of the interviewees occasionally fade in and out. This bricolage-montage style of filmmaking is comparable to Sebald’s literary style, in which the postmodernist author adds borrowed techniques and references into the texture of his work. Throughout, one suspects that a truly thorough knowledge of Sebald – The Rings of Saturn especially- would perhaps be required to fully appreciate all of the film’s multi-layered intricacies.
Thoughtful, discursive and somewhat mesmeric, Patience (After Sebald) is an unusual piece of filmmaking, yet Gee’s film functions well as a solid introductory primer to Sebald’s books for those with little or no previous knowledge of the author.
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