Dan Sallitt | All the Ships at Sea
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Sallitt has written repeatedly that his favorite director is Howard Hawks. All the Ships at Sea shows the influence of Hawks. The story telling is vigorous, the characters are rich, and the logically constructed story development is character-centered, showing vivid interactions between the principal performers. Both sisters are get-up-and-go types in the Hawks tradition. The older sister spends the entire film, taking every action she can to help the younger sister, who is in trouble. She also tries to help other people, in the course of the film. The younger sister is less functional, being in the grip of a religious cult. But the film stresses the younger sister's willingness to take personal action in accordance with her religious convictions. She is not passive or a victim; she is a person who stands up for what she thinks is right.
Hawks spent most of his career on genre films. There is nothing genre-oriented about All the Ships at Sea, which is a realistic drama about modern life and religion. All the Ships at Sea is dedicated to the memory of Maurice Pialat, and the film reflects the tradition of modern French filmmakers who make realistic dramas stemming from Hawksian traditions, but who use realism rather than genre as their base.
While All the Ships at Sea is a realistic drama, it has little in common with what have become the clichés of "serious drama" among contemporary filmmakers:
Consequently, All the Ships at Sea seems more like a "real movie", one with real characters and meaningful events in their lives.
Scott Foundas in Variety compared the serious treatment of religion in All the Ships at Sea to Dreyer, Bresson and Bergman. This is accurate: the film takes an intelligent, non-propagandist look at religion, and its role in people's lives. However, such a comparison can also be misleading, in that All the Ships at Sea does not seem stylistically related to Bresson or Dreyer. There are none of Dreyer's complex camera movements, and the film is full of acting, rather than Bresson's models who have been drilled into automatism.
It is easy to underrate the older sister. She is a teacher, and she expresses her ideas in a scholarly fashion, rather than in a rush of emotion. However, the world needs teachers, and people who can express ideas clearly.
One of the key moments of the film is when the older sister defines the ideas of Catholicism. One of them is "communion": the idea that members of the Church achieve salvation as a communal group, not individually. Both sisters seem to believe this deeply, and practice it in their lives. Neither one has any interest in the Gnostic ideas that are gaining popularity in the United Sates, and the Gnostic view that God is best discovered by individuals directly.