If you have never read a book by W. G. Sebald, a German writer who was born toward the end of World War II, spent 30 years teaching and living in Norwich, UK, and died in a car accident in 2001, this short and beautiful documentary will make you wonder why you have not done so, why his work is not an important part of your life, and why he died soon after he became famous.
Sebald appears in Patience (After Sebald) as a ghost. We hear him speak only once. We see his image only once. And for much of the documentary, his sad soul roams Norwich's desolate countryside, slips in and out of the passages from his most famous book in English, The Rings of Saturn, which are read by the actor Jonathan Pryce (the hero of Brazil), and haunts the memories of the friends, students, photographers, literary critics, poets, and admirers interviewed by director Grant Gee.
Patience's highest achievement is that it successfully translates Sebald's literary style (cold, dark, philosophical, precise, poetic) into cinema (grainy black and white, a moody score, ghostly dissolves of talking heads). In one scene, we see a faded image of Saturn and its rings. The rings are the remains of a moon that got too close to the planet and scattered. The documentary and Sebald's books are indeed like these rings. This is what happens to us when we get too close to life and its meaning—we are shattered into something beautiful and strange. Northwest Film Forum, May 11–17.