Saturday, 28 August 2010


Seagulls only feature briefly in this landmark Flemish feature, which played at the 1956 Cannes Festival, but their presence provides an important metaphor. Our protagonist is a baby-faced vagrant who emerges mysteriously from the harbour in Antwerp, wandering the streets with little apparent purpose but to find sanctuary. Dressed in a dark body-length jacket, he cuts a sinister figure and many of the city’s residents distrust him based on image alone. During his travels, he manages to establish connections with a few women and a young Francophone orphan. As the city gradually warms to his presence, we learn secrets from his past, and how he ended up as he is.

Considering its aesthetic merits, it is a surprise to learn that this film was helmed by relative novices in the field. The lighting – sfumato in the daytime and chiaroscuro at night – adds great depth to the photography and mirrors the protagonist’s state of mind. Antwerp is more than just the backdrop, and the camera takes every opportunity to drink in its unique architecture – at one point the camera rises above rooftop level to present the city as a whole. Though the film is ultimately about the individual, a whole host of characters is featured to create an understanding of the protagonist’s isolation, and this makes his search for a sense of belonging so poignant. Suave but sensitive, Seagulls Die In The Harbour might not be a particularly vital film, but one would do well to file it under ‘hidden gems’.

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