Patience (After Sebald)


”Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artifact we create.” –W.G. Sebald

In the middle of 1992, Winfried Georg Sebald undertook an extensive walking expedition in Suffolk, an area of the United Kindom known for its often discordant environment and a rich cultural history. One of the products of the author’s journey was the published book titled The Rings of Saturn, a masterpiece containing ruminations on many interesting topics, from the works of Sir Thomas Browne to the beginnings of the silkworm cultivations in the west – all of them relating in some way to the erosion of memory and the certainty of decay. The book, published three years after the journey, became a literary treasure among readers and revered by many critics who took the time to interpret it and spawned one of the nerdiest literary projects to date, LITMAP. From examining a myriad of original material and significant interviews with Sebald enthusiasts, biographers, and colleagues, Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald)does an astonishing job of encapsulating the ambiguous tone of Sebald’s beautiful book.

Following the identical route that Sebald favored for his touring holiday, Gee manages to capture the heft of the author’s transcript through an amalgam of imaginative camera work, elegant editing, and a pragmatic use of an old recording of Schubert’s Die Winterreise from 1978 as a musical backdrop. Gee’s striking monochrome cinematography gives off a corroded aesthetic that immaculately complements the theme of loss through erosion that ran throughout The Rings of Saturn, and which shares some similarity to the work of Bill Morrison. Some scenes of the barren Suffolk coast complemented with the crackly re imaginings of Schubert and Jonathan Pryce’s almost mournful readings of selected segments from Sebald’s journal will often chill you to the bone. It would be impracticable for Gee to cover the abundance of anecdotes, historical inspirations, and biographical interests comprised within Rings, and the film will no doubt attract disparagement from those who would have favored a little more emphasis on the Tales of the Weird stuff that had a large exploration throughout the book.

Gee desisted the desire to incorporate many explicatory interviews, and abandons all together the need of a narrator. As a result, viewers completely unversed in the works of Sebald may feel a little confused at the beginning, but the image of the writer materializes corresponding with the image of his book and the landscape that galvanized him. A German expatriate, many of the more enthralling sections of Rings tackled Sebald’s incapability to be at home in the world, despite teaching as a professor at the University of East Anglia for decades. The interviews Gee does incorporate are perceptive, frequently personal, and divulge viewers to unfamiliar  levels of the staggering breadth of Sebald’s ambitious book.

Patience is an engrossing experience, mesmerically paced, one segment proceeding gracefully into the next until the credits roll. It’s a bewitching and purposefully decaying experience for the eyes and ears. One hermeneutic we can use, if ever needed, when watching Patience — or even reading the The Rings of Saturn — it is carried in this segment from the book: “From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane and when it will fade away.” This waning and fading away concerned Sebald all through his work, and Gee’s interpretation through Patience illustrates this vividly. The film focuses a minor significance on Sebald’s contented lineage with his German heritage than did the writer in the book, but this is only a slight criticism about an otherwise delightful documentary, which, like The Rings of Saturn, is difficult to label with a definitive genre.