In the wake of Venice... 28 times cinema Review of STYX

Photo from Styx movie

by Ben de Samet

Styx is the second feature by the Austrian director Wolfgang Fischer (and one of the three finalists of this year’s Lux Prize). It depicts the solo sailing trip of the somewhat troubled doctor Rieke, which turns out to be much more of an adventure than she expected it would be.

The opening sequence with its mesmerizing images of monkeys exploring a city immediately shows us that we are dealing with a director that knows what he’s doing. With precisely crafted cinematography and a natural pacing Styx captures the viewer and refuses to lose grip until the end credits. The movie is mainly set at sea, with little more to see than a sailing boat and the vast ocean, yet the variation in photography manages to keep it interesting and fully exploits the limited location. Along with the lack of dialogue, especially during the first half of the film, Styx provides asort of claustrophobic, almost hypnotizing, experience.

Riekes solitary dialogue with the elements is suddenly disrupted when she discovers a ship set loose on the horizon, carrying a large group of refugees needing help. Rieke contacts the coast guard, yet her attempts to get help are met with indifference and hostility. The frustrating communication between Rieke and the authorities is cleverly echoed in Rieke’s own hesitant attitude, as she too struggles with the (false) choice between human responsibility and individualism.

Styx tells us something about how we view and deal with refugees, rather than focusing on the story of the refugees themselves who, except for a little boy, remain unspecified, a faceless group, literally at great distance. This might be seen as a missed opportunity to give a voice to the refugees, yet at the same time it convincingly confronts us with the dehumanizing discourse that is often used in the discourse on immigration.

Styx powerfully shows that the political is also personal and forms a strong condemnation of indifference and lack of solidarity.