Review: And Then They Burn The Sea (2021)

Courtesy of Locarno Film Festival

There’s a Philip K. Dick novel where there’s a drug that if someone takes it and hallucinates about you, your reality becomes part of their hallucination. The idea speaks to the way in which our identities are not as strictly demarcated as we’d like to think. What you think of me is important because it’s partly who I am; it affects who I think I am. So what do you do when your mother forgets your name? Forgets who you are? Do you become less of a person? Does some fragment of you fall away? Is there any way of putting it back?

Majid Al-Remaihi’s film is partly a rumination on this topic, and partly an attempt to rescue or retrieve something both of his mother and himself. His mother in the film is a ghostly presence, even before the sickness that would rob her of her memory and ultimately her life struck her. In home video footage, she is literally self-effacing, putting her hands up to shield her face from the camera. She recalls an incident in a shop, when she couldn’t remember her husband’s phone number. Interlaced with these memories, her son is adrift also; seen in his sick bed. Mesa Plum’s camera focuses on the tactile reality: the touch of fingertips on leaves, on rock and the twilight hinterland of a shore that all too readily stands for the edges of both memory and mortality. 

The film itself feels like a ritual recalling of his mother, but with the decisive sadness of a farewell. In archive footage we also see a ritual in which a flaming torch is thrown into the sea, an act that also gives the film its title. This act is a form of letting go, accepting incompatibilities while at the same time, hoping for a dramatic impossible reversal of fortunes: the setting fire to the sea, the snowball in hell. 

Having lived myself with the loss of a parent from Alzheimer’s, I can keenly recognise both the grief and the self-questioning that the film expresses. Somewhere between a prayer and a goodbye, this isn’t so much a depiction of loss as an act, attempting to deal with it.  

Courtesy of Locarno Film Festival

Country: Qatar
Language: Arabic
Runtime: 13′
Year: 2021
Written/ Directed by: Majih Al-Remaihi
Director of Photography: Mesa Prum
Sound Design: Séverin Favriau and Falah Hannoun
Line Producer: Tala Kaddoura
First Assistant Director: Tala Kaddoura
Script: Majid Al-Remaihi
Editor: Amit Chowdhury.
Produced by: Doha Film Institute
Festival Distribution: Wouter Jansen / Square Eyes Film