THE ADJECTIVE USED to describe a persecuted community is dynamite. It can represent the psychological difference between your being able to recognise those someones in the community as people just like you, or “others” that are not like you at all, and therefore have nothing to do with you. Wolfgang Fischer’s masterpiece Styx is an essay — in German, with English subtitles — on the contemporary global refugee crisis and will have you on the edge of your seat for its 94 minute duration.
Similar to Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 film Gravity that contemplates the issue of intergalactic pollution, Styx has a tiny cast and situates its main character, played by Susanne Wolff in the hostile reach of the open sea. She’s armed with her imperialist competence, her skills, her beautiful boat with all that opens and shuts and she’s out there looking for the artificial jungle experiment coined by 19th century evolutionist Charles Darwin, on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. On a whim of curiosity, you understand. Because she can.
But as the likes of Joseph Conrad or Ernest Hemingway may have told you, the sea is full of all kinds of other elements, some of which is contained by protocol; some of which is not. The Wolff character is a German medical doctor and in so many ways, she’s like the colonialist everyman, whose whole life shifts when the prerogative of people on another boat stops being other people’s problems and makes her recast her understanding of humanity and pragmatics and where the two conflate.
From the moment the film begins, however, you know you are in safe cinematographic hands. The love of the land and worship of the sea is handled with enormous skill. The work, over and above its narrative – or advocacy – gloss, is overpoweringly magnificent. The value of the work, however, is that amidst all this harsh and enormous beauty, there is horror and difficult moral complexity.
But it is the child, played by the teenaged performer, Gedion Oduor Wekesa who brings the work to its great sense of potency. Like the child actor Helena Zengel in System Crasher, also a part of this year’s festival, this young performer stretches his empathy for the character’s plight in a way that belies his youth. Through his silence and his urgency, his spontaneous prayers and his emotional paralysis and fierce impotent rage, an eloquent and shattering understanding of the plight of refugees in a situation of hate and war is articulated. If you see one film in this Eurofilm festival this year, see this one.
- Styx is directed by Wolfgang Fischer and features a cast headed by Felicity Babao, Alexander Beyer, Inga Birkenfeld, Dominik Both, Charlie Galea, Mario Mangion, Anika Menger, Kelvin Mutuku Ndinda, Simon Sansone, Chris Spiteri, Gedion Oduor Wekesa, Susanne Wolff. It is written by Wolfgang Fischer and Ika Künzel and produced by Marcos Kantis and Martin Lehwald, it features creative input by Benedict Neuenfels (cinematography), Monika Willi (editing), Wolfgang Fischer, Ika Künzel, Benedict Neuenfels and Volker Rehm (production design), Adrian Baumeister (sound design) and Anja Dihrberg, Godfrey Ojiambo, Edward Said and Krysteen Sayane (casting). It is part of the European Film Festival, screening in South Africa during November and December.