VISIONS DU RÉEL 2022 Competition
- Greek director Gregoris Rentis explores masculinity beyond the issues of toxicity and aggression in this hybrid story of mercenaries hired to protect ships in high-risk waters
In his first feature-length film, Dogwatch, which has just world-premiered in Visions du Réel’s international competition, Greek director Gregoris Rentis hits every note bang on. Straddling the line between fiction and documentary, he explores masculinity beyond the simplified issues of toxicity and aggression.
If the story is treated in a documentary manner, the audiovisual approach clearly belongs to the fiction field. This is clear from the first widescreen shot, a fixed-camera tableau depicting three uniformed men on the deck of a ship. It plays out like a comedy: the commander shouts, "Enemy at 9 o'clock!" and the two soldiers turn and aim their rifles in opposite directions.
While Rentis might be mocking the idea of military men as brawn with no brains, to an extent, over the course of the film, we come to realise that he treats them with genuine understanding and respect. The story is told via three characters, mercenaries employed by shipping companies to protect their vessels from pirates. Until some ten years ago, Somali pirates were the scourge of the seas, and such guns for hire saw lots of action – which is presumably the very reason why one decides to go into this line of work. But since no such guarded ship has ever been captured, even though unprotected boats still fall prey to pirates, the mercenaries have a new enemy: boredom.
Dogwatch starts with rookie Yorgos training on a beach with other recruits. Filmed from a very close distance, they spar in silence so that we hear only their grunts and breaths, and light hits of flesh on flesh. The focus on muscles, bulging veins, sweat and tattoos in this opening segment underlines the hollowness of the alpha-male idea, but as we watch Yorgos say goodbye to his girlfriend and later party while waiting for deployment in Sri Lanka, it is clear that Rentis wants us to know him as a person: a young, baby-faced man still dazzled by the wide world.
Meanwhile, Costas is an experienced soldier at the peak of his career. The focus here is on the feeling of loneliness through his communication with his girlfriend and friends, and shots of him looking into the distance from the ship deck. This segment includes a clever montage of a drill set to Schubert's "Serenade" from his "Swan Song" collection, complete with a bullet casing bouncing off the deck in slow motion, like an ironic callback to American war films.
Finally, veteran Victor wants to settle down, asking for an office job, and his monologue to his superior is the most documentary-like part of the film as he explains his reasons and motivations. He is raising his son (a gorgeously lit, tender scene sees them hanging out in their garden) and training a new recruit (in total contrast, he is a merciless drill instructor).
The fiction-film tools meticulously employed by DoP Thomas Tsiftelis, from close-ups and shot-reverse shots to elaborate pans and zooms, imply a close collaboration between the director and the protagonists. The intense sound design by Leandros Dounis draws us into the inner worlds of the characters with ease, and the score by British composer Forest Swords enhances their respective surroundings, especially when combined with slow motion. Instead of going for a dry, observational approach, Rentis gives us a distinctly cinematic piece that is no less “real” or “true” for its stylisation.
A co-production between Greece's BYRD, asterisk*, Topcut Modiano and Arctos SA, and France's Good Fortune Films, Dogwatch is handled internationally by Canada's Syndicado.
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