“Styx” depicts the transformation of a strong woman torn from her contented world during a sailing trip.
‘Styx’ is the latest film to be released in the UK by 606 Distribution, a new player in the production industry with the aim of unearthing hidden gems of European and Worldwide cinema and bringing them to a wider audience, and I’m glad I got the chance to see this film. The outline of the film suggests a survival drama on the seas, akin to J. C. Chandor’s superb ‘All is Lost’ but ‘Styx’ is more interested in using its premise to explore deeper themes and I was really taken by it.
The film begins by introducing us to Rieke (Susanne Wolff), a German paramedic with a passion for sailing, and we quickly move from land to the sea as she heads off down the west coast of Africa looking for remote islands to relax amongst untouched nature. The first half of the film is essentially about following Rieke as she works on the boat and there’s something quietly compelling about watching someone who knows what they’re doing efficiently going about their work, but this is all set up to build to the point director Wolfgang Fischer is particularly keen to explore. This point occurs when Rieke happens across a stranded boat containing many refugees who are clearly in distress, and it puts her in a difficult position knowing her small boat is not big enough to properly help and indeed her presence actively causes the refugees on the other boat to take to the water. Despite several mayday calls it becomes clear that help is either not on its way, or if it is, it won’t be in time, and this forces Rieke to take drastic action to intervene.
Susanne Wolff is a steely presence as Rieke in a role that often demands more from her physically than emotionally and I felt she did a terrific job of selling the anguish of the situation she finds herself in. In previous reviews I’ve cited some of the fine work in modern Danish cinema in exploring moral dilemmas with no easy answers (see ‘The Hunt‘, ‘A War‘, ‘A Hijacking‘ – also set at sea), and ‘Styx’ (albeit German) is a film very much in that tradition. Rieke is faced with a choice – intervene and risk her own safety or don’t intervene knowing the people on the other boat may not survive. Fischer’s ire is reserved for the authorities and the way they react to the mayday call, treating the refugee ship and the people on it in a vastly different way than they would for other mayday calls and the film rather pointedly calls this out with a sobering and thought provoking approach to how the events of the film unfold.
‘Styx’ is an excellent piece of work led by a compelling lead performance from Susanne Wolff and like many great films, the issues and questions it provokes linger long after the film has concluded.
Directed By: Wolfgang Fischer
Starring: Susanne Wolff and Gedion Wekesa Oduor