Given: Film Review
Given is a 2016 documentary directed by Jess Bianchi. The story centres on a family who embarks on an epic journey, stopping over in 15 countries, in search of nirvana. They dazzle on camera in their attempt at showcasing what living off the grid could look like. There is also a strong theme aimed at reconnecting with Mother Nature and ancestral roots.
Professional surfers, Aamion and Daize Goodwin alongside their kids, get the opportunity to interact with diverse cultures and divine cuisines. They also get to play leading roles in somewhat of a tribute to surfing and surfing locations the world over.
Stories for the faint hearted
It’s narrated through the eyes of six-year-old Given, who becomes a big brother to sister True, early in the screenplay. Complex themes around life and death are seemingly made simple as one can’t help but listen closely to the eloquent manner in which the film is told. One almost feels that the movie tries to be a combination of The Lion King and another voyage classic, Baraka.
Throughout the movie, a consistent theme is the Goodwin’s search for the big fish, metaphorical speak for an experience of a lifetime on repeat. The film captivates by screening distant lands and makes anyone living in suburbia or the urban city question their life, especially if that life borders on boredom. It advocates going on an adventure. Quest even. More importantly, the film points out the power of the personal narrative that again proves to be crucial in storytelling.
It does well to idealise one family’s journey through some of the planet’s most scenic landscapes. Iceland to Ireland, Israel and Thailand, Senegal to Nepal, Given is a free ride through the elements, from the comfort of your couch. The film succeeds in showing off the power of the visual medium and pools together a hotshot production team that includes a mix of sound engineers, camera crew and video editors. This is also where the problem lies.
What could go wrong?
Portrait style footage and a naive interpretation of the dynamic lives of individuals living in the Global South juxtaposed against the seemingly perfect lives of the surfing family. This questions the film’s cultural and ethical ineptness. It goes from being a documentary to a tourist brochure then back again.
Scenes jump so quickly one can hardly keep up. Fast and slow-motion shots of snow, mountains, forests, a full moon, deserted beaches, blue waters and so forth were strung together to make what seems like a long tourism advert. Surfing scenes also feature often. According to Bianchi, the film was intentionally made “to engage and inspire the audience to view movies differently.”
While starry-eyed Given, who sounds wise beyond his years, tells his story well, at times it sounds like he was told what to say by Aamion. Their travels are always glorified. Clichèd by those vintage vehicle scenes, married with the sound of humming and a banjo being strummed. Afternoon sun piercing through the windows. One can’t help but wonder who paid for this big-budget film and most of all, who are these people? Little is said about and by the other leading characters, the bits shared are vague.
What about those moments when one eagerly heads to the beach to go surfing and there are no waves? Or how it feels to be in a storm in a remote location void of any modern day comforts, like a pair of dry socks. Most of all, how did they find out where all those secluded spots were? These are all relevant concerns when travelling that could have enlightened the viewer.
What made The Lion King so special was that one got the chance to mourn with Simba, hereby sympathising with the main character. So much so that one hoped he became king, honouring family tradition. Except for the ironic boat scene, when a fish gets gutted, the star hardly ever experiences sorrow. One tries hard to avoid envy and search for empathy for the Goodwin’s.
Given’s closing scenes and emphasis on the big fish could have been done differently. While this award-winning film caught the attention of audiences worldwide. It sometimes felt too much. The trek and interactions with various people would have already been enough food for thought.
Rating 2 out of 5