In 2015, Syrian artist Amel Alzakout took the bold decision to make the crossing to Europe with a people smuggler. Just before reaching the coast of Lesbos, the overcrowded boat started sinking. The entire film is comprised of dizzying footage as Alzakout shoots from the water. In nearly abstract close-ups of people in the water waiting to be rescued, we can just barely make out fluorescent orange life jackets, dangling legs, tiny feet in white sneakers, a bobbing pack of cigarettes, life preservers. We hear emergency whistles and screams.
All the while, the sun beats down mercilessly on the Mediterranean. There’s no horizon. No up and no down. Just the sea, and very little to cling onto. We watch this floating dance with death while time stands still.
Alzakout first planned to study journalism and become a war correspondent, an idea she later abandoned. But, as she explains in her thoughtful voice while guiding us through this utterly gripping experience, in Purple Sea she’s suddenly become one, and in an entirely unique way.