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Cherry SmythClick here to Print this Page
Zineb Sedira
In MiddleSea, this melancholy estrangement is intensified as the lone man, the same actor used in Saphir takes the boat journey.

The sea becomes the antagonist here. Darkly mysterious and powerfully mesmeric, it erases boundaries and a sense of self with its immense impersonality. The man wanders through the beautifully stark symmetry of the deck, along steel corridors, past a Venetian blind blowing in the wind. The glassless windows of the ship, the deck-rails, act as poetic framing devices, suggesting that he'll spend a lifetime, always looking on, never being part of the thing itself.

The highly stylised camerawork renders twilight at the deck-rails incredibly seductive with its Minimalist tones and hard edges. The romance however is off-set by the uncanny soundtrack, composed by Mikhail Karikis, which uses intermittent sound effects to amplify the sense of being lost at sea. There is the itchy static of a radio trying to tune into a frequency in which language can't be understood, mingled with the rumbling of the engine, the trailing voices of a distant party who are never seen. The provenance of the sound is not identified, fading in and out with an eerie, unplaceable music that echoes the timelessness of sea travel and the loss of bearings. The figure stands beyond territory and identity and the soundtrack implies both the freedom and the terror of that.

The journey not only re-imagines Sedira's and her family's many journeys to and from France, and from immigrant to citizen, but also the metaphorical journeys an artist makes towards maturity, autonomy and creating a distinct voice. It's not until the ship's hull is reflected in a glass building at an unspecified harbour that we learn that the ship is from, and perhaps returning to, Algiers. The juddering rope is pulled taut to the mooring. Then the passenger, standing ashore, is shown loosening it from the mooring again. The rope slips slowly out of shot, as though it and the ship itself are no longer needed.

This quiet ending implies that Sedira has completed a journey to end all journeys, and found a kind of resolution in the act of coming to rest, 'coming home' in film itself. There's an acceptance of the pleasures of absence, the fuel of nostalgia and the joy of arrival. It is this moving perspective on destiny and longing that sings most eloquently from Sedira's films shot in Algeria. The act of gentle relinquishment suggests another vital hinge on which the artist's next body of work may, once again, turn.

Cherry Smyth, 2008
Middle Sea, video still, 2008
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