Sunday, August 22, 2021

Gabrielle Russell | Keel

the voyage to anywhere

by Douglas Messerli

Bryony Ive (screenplay), Gabrielle Russell Keel / 2004

One of the most beautiful “coming of age” films I’ve seen in a long time is British director Gabrielle Russell’s Keel. The film is so focused on its images that, in fact, it could have been a silent film, except that the voices of these British working-class kids are important just to comprehend that in this particular cinematic voyage we are not traveling back to the territory of E. M. Forster’s Maurice, for example, or have somehow wandered into the boating house of an Evelyn Waugh novel.  

      Yet there is something magical here, which we’ve already noted in the cinematography and the very wonder of them coming upon it and feeling it represents a special object and space. Within minutes, they even begin to imagine themselves out on a body of water floating somewhere they cannot quite express (“Where do you think we would go?” “Anywhere....it’s just us, we could end up anywhere.”) while, given their lack of imagination, they consider only using it as a place to escape and smoke.

      We do, however, also recognize that it soon does indeed represent a kind a voyage for them as together, their backs flat on the hull, they begin noticing the reflections of the water upon the walls of the shed and, very slowly, recognize their own bodies as sharing in the magic space the light creates. If they begin by looking upward as if to the sky, one, slowly revealing an increasing awareness of the special moment through his facial gestures, turns his face to the side to look at the other, the second eventually following suit. And suddenly, as if by magic, these tough-seeming kids kiss.

      Sitting across from one another one lights up the joint, smoking it, the other taking out the lantern they have found within and lighting it. Smoke rises, as one lays out on the bottom of keel, the other eventually joining, the camera, at first, showing only smoke rising from within before shifting so that we might observe them laying side by side.

      Yet there is something magical here, which we’ve already noted in the cinematography and the very wonder of them coming upon it and feeling it represents a special object and space. Within minutes, they even begin to imagine themselves out on a body of water floating somewhere they cannot quite express (“Where do you think we would go?” “Anywhere....it’s just us, we could end up anywhere.”) while, given their lack of imagination, they consider only using it as a place to escape and smoke.

      We do, however, also recognize that it soon does indeed represent a kind a voyage for them as together, their backs flat on the hull, they begin noticing the reflections of the water upon the walls of the shed and, very slowly, recognize their own bodies as sharing in the magic space the light creates. If they begin by looking upward as if to the sky, one, slowly revealing an increasing awareness of the special moment through his facial gestures, turns his face to the side to look at the other, the second eventually following suit. And suddenly, as if by magic, these tough-seeming kids kiss.

      One stands soon after, not necessarily pulling away or even angry or embarrassed about their mutual act, but almost in contemplation of it, as if a bit stunned by it having happened. The other also rises, joining the other as they sit both as if in deep thought. Obviously they cannot answer for their actions, nor do they attempt to. They simply sit, sharing the joint, and the extraordinary quiet lap of the water underneath. They have already returned from a place they never before imagined, and are unsure whether they want to ever travel there again.

Los Angeles, August 22, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (August 2021).

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