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Styx
3rd German Film Week

Styx
© Beta Cinema
Styx

"A spinning moral compass and a topical dimension that proves even more gripping than its brilliantly acheived visceral action" - VARIETY 

Rike is forty, she is a successful doctor whose job demands everything of her. She intends to use her much-needed annual holiday to fulfil her long-cherished dream of sailing single-handedly from Gibraltar to Ascension, a small tropical island in the middle of the Atlantic. Her desire for a carefree holiday seems to be coming to pass but then, after a storm, her beautiful adventure suddenly turns into an unprecedented challenge when she spots a badly damaged, hopelessly overloaded refugee boat nearby. More than a hundred people face drowning. Rike tries to organise help, but she increasingly feels that humanitarianism has deteriorated into mere wishful thinking. Wolfgang Fischer's film depicts a struggle for survival at sea which makes palpable the cruelty of the situation for people in dire straits whose fate is determined by others. The ocean becomes the scene of an allegorical, existential drama.

Source: 68. Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin (Berlinale Catalogue)
 

FILM REVIEW 

Styx is something that art-house festivals normally go crazy about, purportedly because of the firmness of its form, how the story is handled with stern rigour, and also how “an allegorical, existential drama” emerges from its bareness. The film’s stark quality owes both to the narrative and its treatment: Rike, a doctor, is shown in the beginning of the film rescuing a man from a car accident. Then, all of a sudden, inspired by Darwin’s writings, she starts planning on a trip to Ascension Island and sails to the Atlantic with her yacht, undertaking the journey on her own. The voyage begins smoothly and full of promise (possibly a self-discovery? or a surprise plot point? or an iceberg?) but her holiday suddenly comes to a halt when, after a storm, she comes across a ship of full of refugees, its passengers jumping overboard to save their lives. She calls for help and is advised to stay away from the boat. Rike is frustrated with how rescue is taking too long as the situation is becoming fatally serious. A young boy who jumps off the ship comes near her boat, and Rike saves and nurses him, realising how little she can do in the face of this large-scale tragedy.
 
The slow burn of Styx could have paid off had director Wolfgang Fischer maximised the premise and preferred movement to mystery. One can easily infer from the sparseness of dialogue and action that the film is emphasising the cruelty that comes from the vulnerability of the situation. The problem is that it is too unadventurous, too calculated in its intention to characterise the helplessness that it ends up being helpless itself, that towards the end the film does not achieve a semblance of insight, or an argument explored into fruition, on the current refugee crisis in Europe. This frustration comes from seeing the opportunities present in the premise that that film decides only to orbit (issues of race in the subject of humanitarian efforts, for example). Whereas the wordlessness and minimalism provide the expected gravitas and tension, qualities that allow the audience to take it seriously, what Styx overlooks is the power of discourse that can be contained and argued in the narrative, not just resorting to mere symbolism or allegory that appeals only to highbrow audiences.

- Richard Bolisay

Richard Bolisay Richard Bolisay is a writer and film critic based in Manila. His essays on cinema have appeared in various publications online and in print. He is a participant of the Berlinale Talent Press and Locarno Critics Academy, and has been part of the jury of, among others, the Hong Kong International Film Festival. 
Follow him on Twitter @richardbolisay. 

Film details

Germany, Austria, 2018
Director: Wolfgang Fischer
Genre: Drama
English subtitles
Duration: 94 mins
Rating: PG

Awards and Nominations

Berlinale 2018, 2nd place at Audience Award, Heiner-Carow-Award, Award of the Ecumenical Jury, Europe Cinemas Label Award
Filmkunstfest 2018, Grand Prize of the Festival, Audience Award, Best Sounddesign
Emden International Film Festival 2018, Best Creative Performance
Valetta Film Festival 2018, Best Cinematographer
Emden International Film Festival 2018, Creative Energy Award

Screening schedules

SM Aura Premier: 
Nov 10 - 7:00pm

SM City North EDSA: 
Nov 9 - 7:00pm

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