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The Departure
Digital Video
115 minutes
The season is unclear; we might say autumn just as easily as we might say spring. Down in Marsamxetto harbour the weather is fair; blue, sunny skies with light winds. Five men are about to set out on a sailing boat to enjoy an afternoon at sea. Apart from Gerald, who owns the boat, the men seem awkward on board, dressed in leather jackets and tracksuits, they can only watch as Gerald unties the boat and raises the anchor.


Yet all of these men have travelled by sea before, though it was out of necessity, in the hope of starting a better life. This is the first time that an experienced sailor is on board with them. Perhaps this is the first time that they are leaving the island on which they have lived for several years. Perhaps they are friends, or perhaps this is a staged attempt to create a fly-on –the-mast documentary by a sixth person, whose presence is only sensed rather than seen.


Where in Africa are they from? How long have they been living on this island? What are their names? What do they do for a living? How old are they?  Are they happy living here or would they like to sail north to Italy? Is that a wife or girlfriend calling them up all the time?


As the boat reaches the mouth of the harbour one of the men expresses his real fear of the open sea, and talks about the gruelling crossing he experienced, and so Gerald decides it would be best to turn back and practice sailing inside the harbour. This failure to conquer the waves brings us a little closer to the personal histories of these men, who reached North Africa and climbed into a boat on the Libyan coast, a crowded boat without a navigator, to cross the Mediterranean sea and hopefully drift into European waters.


Tension eases, the men begin to steer the boat and a poignant humour and affinity begins to emerge. Between the long, loud mobile phone calls and the vibrant humour, Gerald invites the men to listen to the silence. Out here you forget about everything, he says.

It is at this point, perhaps, that we become aware that there are in fact six men on board, an unknown eye behind the camera. There is no edit, no manipulation and no intrusive questioning, the sixth person on board is as curious as we are about what happens when distinctly different people are brought together in close proximity, where trust must be established, and where one man’s fears can be overcome by the guidance and confidence of another. 


Ultimately this journey has no final destination, leisure and sport are the only factors for going out to sea this time, concepts which may seem almost vulgar to men who spent uncertain days on a rudimentary boat in order to reach a more bounteous land. However, as the boat returns to shore the men appear to be sitting comfortably, each seems to have found his space and it seems possible that they could ease into this thing called sailing – travelling across water for nothing more than pleasure.

 Emma Mattei

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