Review: Coral: Rekindling Venus

Coral: Rekindling Venus paints a vital, brutal picture of life in the microscopic reaches of our oceans.

At first, the sense of scale is astounding – compare that sea lion to that school of fish, those fish to the mammoth proportions of that spotted whale shark. Each mark on the shark’s back is a gleaming star, its body serving as an underwater Milky Way. We go deeper, closer, and come to the coral.

Contrasted with the recognisable shapes of familiar sea creatures, the coral are shocking and weird. Furry, alien things with no faces but pulsing, groping suckers. A whole forest of tuboid digestive tracts. Glittering mites – bright white dots – flit across the screen. Trails of light linger in the wakes of electric, transparent critters. You are inside an underwater rave cave, and it’s about to get real.

Coral flex their feathery fingers and snatch grubs out of the water, dragging them into gaping, lurid mouths. Tiny sea worms burst into chunks, popping and expelling clouds of colourful ‘ink’, victims of the coral’s powerful fists. All this set to dramatic orchestral music.

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The curved ceiling of the planetarium gives a remarkable depth to the film. The projection is not crystal clear; the sometimes blurry footage is more an abstract interpretation than a precise reproduction of life under the sea. It’s a small disappointment – the images in the festival program suggest sharp photography and an ability to examine details we don’t otherwise get to see – but the film is beautiful regardless.

With funding by NSW and federal film bodies, it’s no surprise that Coral steers clear of making overt statements about the factors contributing to the demise of unique reef environments. This is a film that asks audiences to be curious and to ‘fall in love’ with the planet’s aquatic oddities. There’s no narration, no identification of the species or their locations, no jump cuts to photos of Adani’s last coal spill disaster, no shots of waste pouring into rivers. There are no time-lapses of shrivelling, bleached coral, hard and pale as bone. A black and white sequence implies death, but there is no call to action, no directed message. Lynette Wallworth provides the images, and you can deduce the story and make your choices.

Coral: Rekindling Venus puts these minute organisms on stage and sets them to music. They live. They dance. They die.

Coral: Rekindling Venus is showing at the Planetarium for the Adelaide Festival until Sunday, 19 March 2017. This review follows the Tuesday, 7 March 7pm screening.

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