Syllas Tzoumerkas Introduces his Film “The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea” for MUBI Notebook.
First published at MUBI notebook in February 2020.
“Bitch town, you wrecked me!” yells failed Euro-pop singer Manolis (Christos Passalis) midway through the film, in his on-stage outburst against his audience of regulars in the small provincial nightclub he sings in night after night.
Manolis and everyone else in Sargasso are all the children of this very photogenic swampland of Western Greece, the wildly poor province that surrounds a shitty little town: Missolonghi—relic of the 19th century adored by the Romantics for its inhabitants’ suicidal fight against the Ottomans, and the deathbed of a lord with the name Byron.
Bred from this land, or thrown in it for a sufficient amount of time, all characters here are sunk waist-down and stuck in the dark, still, opaque, quiet, hypnotic mud. Waist-up, they are all exposed to the hard, harsh, unforgiving sunlight of the Mediterranean, both direct or reflected by the swamp itself. Faraway, everywhere and always, all around, is the sea, connected to the ocean, and on the other side of the Atlantic, the Sargasso Sea—its waves doing, Bukowski says, whatever the fuck they’ve been doing for centuries.
With all the actors, and with Petrus Sjövik (cinematographer), Jorien Sont (production designer), Marli Aliferi (costume designer) and Andreas Wodraschke (editor), we built everything around this core contradiction. And then, all the fun stuff that make us human could burst out from and on the characters: shared dreams, visions, paradises-gained and paradises-lost, loose animals, brutal violence, unstoppable sexualities, communal dysfunction, blessed cynicism. A very certain ferocity, this means; the only thing that grants us mercy.
Like eels crawling our way on wet dirt, what are the forces that mysteriously move us to change our sticky-dead surrounding? What makes us move from what has turned into thick despair, and to what extent do we need to stretch ourselves to manage this motion? How do Paradises work on us? Paradises-lost and paradises-envisioned and paradises-quick-and-violent, sort of right-here right-now? This is what fierce Elisabeth (Angeliki Papoulia) and muted Rita (Youla Boudali) and all the other characters in this small town community inevitably deal with.
But be warned. Sargasso is a flat-tire thriller to put in your collection of “nasties.” Everything will be queer, grey and fluid here, the notions of justice, of free will, of redemption, of good and bad, of what’s funny and what’s fucked-up-drama; and most of the usual affirmative and negative convictions of what is correct from both sides of the political-correctness aisle, will be thrown out of the window—the way you throw out of the window in a plastic bag a dead animal that has stunk in the house. On the contrary, a big collection of beautifully living birds, free-range pigs, cows and horses, ducks and chicken, will all gaze from the fields or from their cages at the human action, startled and bewildered. And unsettled and unsettling bad lieutenants and 70s/80s masters of dream-space will dance all around.