This modest, immensely enjoyable documentary is about one of my favourite books, The Rings of Saturn by the German poet and critic WG Sebald, who was born in 1944, taught for much of his adult life in this country, mainly at the University of East Anglia, and was killed in a motor accident in 2001. It was first published in German in 1995, translated into English three years later and is an account of a walking tour of Suffolk, the people he meets, the places he visits, and the historical and literary reflections prompted by what he sees and senses, taking his mind around the world. Suffolk becomes a sort of palimpsest for his eloquent, precise, lugubrious, often drily witty meditations about war, death, destruction and decay, about memories and continuities and the feeling that nothing entirely disappears.
The film is largely shot in grainy grey-and-white, which matches the photographs, etchings and documents that illustrate the author’s text, though from time to time small frames of colour film are imposed on these monochrome images. Jonathan Pryce reads from the book, and these words are occasionally imposed on the film. A variety of admirers, friends and students of Sebald comment on his work, some highly personal (Andrew Motion, a one-time colleague at UEA, talks of visiting the vanished town of Dunwich as a child), some scholastically (cultural historian Marina Warner discusses Saturn and the roots of melancholy), and sometimes from the perspective of a fellow practitioner (Iain Sinclair, who has made not wholly dissimilar psycho-historical journeys).
When I first published this post earlier today the complete film was available via YouTube.
Now sadly it’s been withdrawn so I’ve replaced it with a frustratingly short trailer.