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Styx – Film Review

Styx – Film Review by Frank L.

Director: Wolfgang Fischer
Writers: Ika Künzel, Wolfgang Fischer
Stars: Susanne Wolff, Gedion Oduor Wekesa, Kelvin Mutuku Ndinda

The Styx in Greek mythology is the river that forms a border between Earth which is the world of the living and the Underworld which is the world of the dead. That symbolism is used by the director, Wolfgang Fischer, to bring into sharp focus the plight of migrants fleeing the land of their birth in order to find a safe place to live in the comfort of the Western world.

In this instance Rieke (Susanne Wolff) is working as an emergency doctor. An early sequence shows her ability to act effectively and efficiently to save a life following an accident. Her dream is to visit Ascension Island and its artificial paradise forest planted by Charles Darwin. It is a volcanic speck of an island in the South Atlantic ocean. She sets sail as a highly skilled mariner single handed in an 11 metre yacht. Initially, it all appears idyllic as she makes her way south. She even, from time to time, swims expertly off the back of the yacht. She knows how to enjoy the wonders of the natural world.

She is warned through her radio by a distant cargo ship that there is a big storm brewing. She survives the storm and then the whole context of the film changes. She sees not that far away a vessel in a poor state which appears to have far too many people on board. She radios for help and is effectively told not to intervene because her yacht is too small to be of assistance. Her instinct is to help. The need to help is further heightened by a teenager Kingsley (Gidion Oduor Wekesa) who swims from the stricken vessel towards her yacht. She manages to get him on board even though he is in a state of collapse.

This film was one of three films nominated for the Lux prize 2018 (created by the European Parliament) which is a prize for a film which illuminates an issue that is the subject of current public debate. Even though it did not win (Woman at War was the winner), Styx magnificently puts into context the varied issues which the current migration crisis raises. Susanne Wolff portrays Rieke’s many practical skills and her strong sense of morality without being in any way precious. She is a woman grappling with a dilemma of gargantuan proportions and the constraints as relayed to her over her ship’s radio, she finds lacking in humanity and not in accordance with law.

Fischer with his cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels places the magnificence of the vast ocean as the backdrop to this morality tale. He uses two very different vessels to delineate the world of plenty and the world of deprivation. He concentrates the dilemma in one woman who finds herself alone and faced with the intractable issues but who finds the reaction of her world of privilege incomprehensible and simply wrong. It is a fine piece of work, highly relevant to the issues now facing the world.


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