The opening image of Panta Rhei is a long shot of a beach. On the left, a humpback whale lies on the sand belly up. In the centre, the film's protagonist, a marine biologist named Stefaan, stands motionless. The camera is far back, the two figures dwarfed by the barren beach and the drab grey sky.
The opening image of Panta Rhei is a long shot of a beach. On the left, a humpback whale lies on the sand belly up. In the centre, the film's protagonist, a marine biologist named Stefaan, stands motionless. The camera is far back, making Stefaan barely more than a dot. Even the whale seems tiny, the two figures dwarfed by the barren beach and the drab grey sky.
The film cuts to a close-up of the whale, a shallow pool of water reflected in its lifeless eye. Then the reverse shot, Stefaan returning the blank gaze, as it begins to rain. He stands silent, expressionless, unaffected by the downpour. It's the type of image that one might describe as stoic, but it isn't that. It's just blank.
Panta Rhei takes its name from a quote attributed to Heraclitus: "everything flows." Plato put it slightly differently, stating that nothing ever just is, that everything is always becoming something else, but the idea is the same. Nothing is static, everything is changing, and what we think of as stable objects are really just instants in a process that has been going on for longer than we can comprehend.
Wouten Bongaerts' script never explains exactly what is bothering Stefaan. The closest it comes is indirect, but not exactly subtle; asked by a reporter why the whale has beached itself, he replies that he doesn't know, but "sometimes they just seem to be lost." Ennui doesn't need an explanation. Here, it's a dampness that seeps into everything, a drip that becomes a downpour.
The quiet way Stefaan carries his depression isn't stoicism, although that term is sometimes misapplied. Stoicism involves an acceptance of one's state, combined with the knowledge that it will change, that it has to, because everything is always changing. It is not denial and repression and lack of communication, which just bottle things up until they eventually spill over. Each of us is a vessel that can only hold so much.
The film's climax takes place underwater, a hallucinatory sequence that once again pairs Stefaan with the whale, though this time it's alive. It stares at him for a moment, immense and silent, an island in itself. The pairing mirrors that in the introduction, two impossibly different creatures, both equally lost, caught in the current and choosing which way to swim.
dir: Wouter Bongaerts
syn: Stefaan, an introvert marine biologist is tormented by the water that keeps seeping into his life. Leaking faucets, floods, endless rain. Just like the stranded whales he studies, he flees the water.