Film Reviews

VIFF Review: ‘Symphony in Aquamarine’

A delicate and deeply personal work


Symphony in Aquamarine
(Canada, 78 min.)
Dir. Dan Popa

Boats of all kinds are the preferred vehicle for Dan Popa’s poetic composition Symphony in Aquamarine, the first solo documentary feature of the young Quebecois with Romanian roots. After travelling by car (Taxi pour Deux, 2012) and by plane (Île et Aile, 2014), we are now invited to embark on a maritime journey. On a kayak or on a cargo ship, the film roams international waters from the Black Sea to the Arctic (and back) in four movements.

While Popa offers some factual information by means of a recurring Romanian radio broadcast in the background, we’re mostly left without dialogue, or subtitles. A tranquil voice-over mentions a young man, Maxime, and his hunger for adventure. Or perhaps it is a desire for evasion. In any case, his reveries are passionately entangled with bodies of water as Poseidon’s realm remains a constant presence throughout the film. An indulging viewer tries to scan the numerous sailors of the film in an attempt to fit the name to one face. To little avail, because in the face of the mighty oceans, we might just all be Maxime.

In the epilogue, a previously perfectly groomed and rather serious captain of a commercial vessel on Arctic waters is thrown into the rough waves of the Atlantic Coast. The man, strands of wet hair over his face, is now clamping on to a surfboard. “Tu es sauvé de ce monde infini,” says a sailor assuming he finally returned home. [“You have been saved from this indefinite world.”]

An odyssey that started on the narrowing, and perhaps suffocating, waterways of the Danube with a tiny motorboat and three drunken men wincing at the afternoon sun has come to an end. It brought us to the quiet fishermen, fighting the tides of Mont Saint Michel to prepare the mussels for harvest and to the seafaring men of the cold Arctic. They’re far from their loved ones, with howling winds and screeching seagulls as the sole distraction for the vast fullness of the oceans. Interestingly enough, we’re never in the water. Adrift at times but always on board with Popa’s filmic arrangement.

Symphony in Aquamarine is a very delicate and deeply personal work. It is beauty sculpted from impressions, memories and a newfound freedom from long gestating emotional impediments. An ode to a dearly missed childhood morphing into growing pains of adulthood and the harshness of life. To fathers and to their sons. To brothers and their uncles. With tenderness and care, vignettes of stories are meticulously collaged. Through the suggested character of Maxime, the filmmaker offers the possibility to read them as one storyline while also leaving the door wide open to other interpretations. The narration is unrestrained, which is also encouraged by the brilliant soundscapes of Benoit Dâme, blending gentle harps, nervously upbeat flutes and the folkloric Osoianu Sisters together with elements seemingly inspired by fog horns and emitting beacons.

Further escaping the limitations of linearity in film, the artist simultaneously elaborated his idea for Symphony in Aquamarine into an art installation at the Cinémathèque québécoise. Thoughts, objects and moments collected by Popa in his filmmaking process are giving a new dimension to waterways of this past.

Symphony in Aquamarine screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival._

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Trailer – Symphony in Aquamarine – A film by Dan Popa from La Distributrice de Films on Vimeo.