“BLACK OCEAN” (“Noir ocean”)
Looking at Relationships
In “Black Ocean”, director Marion Hansel looks at three young boys aboard a French naval vessel in 1972 who take part in nuclear tests in Mururoa, in the Pacific. The film explores the relationships of the men on board who are confronted with discipline, violence, solitude and, occasionally, friendship.
Hänsel uses the remote, isolated environments in which the experimentation took place to communicate a universal story about the power of awe. We follow three young sailors (Romain David, Adrien Jolivet, Nicolas Robin) on a French naval vessel in 1972, who are on course for an unknown destination in order to help carry out the bomb tests that they are to witness. The film is divided into two parts: before and after the blast. Before the blast, a lot of time is spent quietly observing the sometimes-friendly, sometimes-oppositional talk and play between the youngsters as they try to stay awake through long watch shifts and quietly ponder the lives that they left behind.
The sailors become mildly rowdy, but spend a lot of time solemnly staring into the distance during the first half of the film. There’s an obvious bit of backstory whose significance is too-often underlined involving a treacherous childhood walk through a river and a buried message. By and large, Hänsel keeps things refreshingly clean with the most loaded relationship in the film belonging to one of the young men and the dog who follows him around.
Once the bomb hits, the film changes gears and turns into a deep meditation on what it is to witness an event that shifts your understanding of the world. Hänsel succeeds in evoking in the viewer because of the low-key performances, efficient writing and gorgeous cinematography. Even with a late-film lapse into excess sentimentality and the unnecessary “political statement”, “Black Ocean” is transportive, sensitive and touching.
“Black Ocean” is at its best during its opening half hour, when Hänsel does a superb job of capturing the day-to-day minutia of these guys’ lives (with the fascinating nature of their uneventful exploits proving effective at initially capturing the viewer’s interest). However, as the film progresses that it becomes an increasingly interminable experience when the proceedings become pointlessness and grow more and more problematic as time slowly marches on. There is an unusual emphasis on elements of a remarkably mean-spirited nature, with the director’s sadistic streak reflected in several key moments throughout the proceedings. The film suffers from an aimless final half hour that’s is almost as Hansel stresses the tedious exploits of three soldiers on shore leave. It drawn-out stretch and seen as random and abrupt.