Review by Sean Boelman
It’s always fun to see a film that takes a genre or genre-adjacent premise and spins it on its head to create something entirely different. The Belgian movie Sea Sparkle does just that, approaching its seemingly outlandish concept in a wonderfully satisfying way rooted in the power of human emotion.
The film follows a young girl who, after the untimely death of her father at sea, sets out on a journey to find the sea monster she thinks is responsible for his demise. The bond between a child and their parent is nearly universal — and tremendously powerful — and filmmaker Domien Huyghe takes advantage of that to craft a powerful family drama.
Although the premise may make it seem like this is a supernatural adventure, it’s something much more profound. Instead, the movie poignantly explores the idea of grief and how children cope with it in times of traumatic loss. It’s refreshingly unmelodramatic, focusing less on the drama and more on how the character internalizes it.
The film does a great job of creating this small fishing community for the story to take place in. Of course, the protagonist is immediately compelling given all that she is going through, but the movie does a great job of providing a wide range of friends and companions to help her through the journey without making any one of them feel archetypal.
Young actress Saar Rogiers is simply extraordinary in her role. It’s a role that was clearly demanding — both physically and mentally — and Rogiers fearlessly stands up to the challenge. The performance she gives is restrained and powerful, thriving in the quiet moments of loneliness that this film has to offer as opposed to the loud anger dominant in the genre.
Visually, the movie is quite strong, leaning heavily on the juxtaposition of neon-and-moonlight-drenched nights and sun-filled days. Many of the film’s darker images bring to mind the depths of the ocean, illuminated by small bursts of glowing light. This lovely imagery is supported by an equally effective soundtrack — made up of mostly pop and rap — that creates a somber but still wondrous tone.
Indeed, Sea Sparkle is definitely darker than your average coming-of-age story given that it is heavily centered around the theme of grief, but Huyghe manages to capture the feeling of childlike fantasy that makes it feel so universal. Many movies have tried this balance between groundedness and innocence, but Huyghe nails it seemingly effortlessly.
Sea Sparkle might not be exactly what the concept advertises, but it’s a pretty great film nonetheless. Its blend of wholesome coming-of-age beats with a uniquely insightful commentary on universal themes makes it a standout in a genre that tends to be rather bloated.
Sea Sparkle debuted at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival.