Sea Countrymen (1955): A Portrait of Life On The Ocean

by Elysia Kirk

With no dialogue, and a run time of eleven minutes, in Sea Countrymen, we watch as a group of fishermen live and work from dawn to dusk, out on the open seas. The film's tone feels like one of casual comradery, contradicting the disturbing visuals that make up most of the piece. The very first image shown to us, as the piece begins, is a group of silhouettes standing next to one another, underneath a sky of dark blues and purples, and over a calm sea. The 'silhouettes' row their beloved boats, and come together, in song.

“This series serves as a time capsule, and as a glimpse into a life that is otherwise rarely documented.”

This film is one of ten in a series of documentaries, directed by Vittorio De Seta, created throughout six years. This series serves as a time capsule, and as a glimpse into a life that is otherwise rarely documented. In eleven minutes, De Seta captures the relationship between man and sea, man and man, and even life and death. The entire middle section of this film is very bright in comparison to the lowlights and shadows making up the beginning and end. Bright, loud,
and bloody.

Using spears to stab and reel in tens of fish the size of people -- the fish bleeding and struggling to stay alive as the sun beats down on the men's backs -- it is an honest, raw look into the lives of a group of people working together to achieve the same goal. After the fish have been caught, one fisherman takes off his hat and places it over his chest, while looking down at the still-flailing bodies of the freshly caught fish, all bathed in red. The rest of the men follow suit. It is a simple, profound, and very human moment.

The final scenes are the calmest in the short film. The sky is a deep, glowing crimson. We hear the occasional, faint whistling. We see the boats, tethered together, slowly moving across the ocean. Sea Countrymen, yet still and peaceful, is also chaotic, and very much alive. It is a portrait of life on the ocean.

Directed by Vittorio De Seta

Here’s the link to watch the full short film: Sea Countrymen


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