Dramas often send us to the depths of the human spirit: The scraping and aching desperation that one will eventually feel in our lives. That moment where you aren’t sure who or what to turn too as the world comes crashing down around you.
There are artists who have made a career of this hopelessness. Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are auteurs of this depressing craft, crafting the pathetic nature of humans in all it’s glory and in an evoking way. Gilles Coulier brings his own style of human sorrow to the big screen with sea-faring drama Cargo.
Cargo revolves around a three-generational family of fisherman, living and working together on the rough see. When the grandfather is thrown overboard, either by accident or by attempted suicide, he is left in a coma and his eldest son Jean has to rally the business around. Unfortunately for him, the boat and company are left in ruin as the industry is dies out. With his brother Francis looking after Jean’s son and hiding a secret love, and the convicted William storming back into their lives, Jean struggles to balance his priorities and soon the pressure begins to crash down on him.
Coulier has crafted, at times, a soulful vignette on a family struggles and how each of them cope. The acting is brilliant and gruff, led Sam Louwyck who is the near stoic and solemn leader of the family. It is Wim Willaert who steals most scenes with his wide eyed and earnest pain, anguished in aiding the family, harbouring this illicit secret, and dealing, emotionally and physically, with his father’s accident. In fact, it really is Francis the film should be focusing on as his snippets are far more engrossing and poignant.
Gorgeous wisps from the foam-laden sea and as roar of the waves mirror the turbulence going on within the family. Wonderfully set against the backdrop of Belgium port , Coulier’s grey and blue colouring adds to the mournful setting.
But, it is bleak. Encroaching and unnecessarily dull in the torment of the brothers. It is pain, slow and unfolding pain that somewhat lessens the impact because that’s all there is – sadness. And the sea. Sadness and the sea. The sea and sadness. Fitting everything they can into the story for it to be as miserable as possible. It becomes tedious after a while as more beats to this tale washes over you.
Look, I get it: Life is misery. Life is pain. Life is one bleak moment to the next I believe that bleakness does have a place on films. After all, we live in a world where struggles are daily, weaved in the lives of every person you’ve met. But at the same time, misery mixes with happiness. People in the depths of their despair are celebratory, are loved, and survive. Whether Cargo accurately showcases this in moments of joy through father and son (on this point, the scenes between Vico and Jean showcase paternal love in it’s purest form,) or lover to lover interactions is debatable.
After all the burdens, could this family find completion? Or failing that, retribution?
Perhaps the hope is there.
Cargo is at BFI London Film Festival. Find out more