By Christel Vesters
CARGO is the personal report of a trip that Laura Waddington made on board an international freighter. The trip with the Middle East as destination has been set down in poetical images: impressionistic, alternately slowed down and stationary. A woman reads aloud the letters she wrote to a friend when she came home which recounts her travel experience. She lists details of their itinerary and adds personal observations of the daily events on the ship. Although the images are of a semi-documentary nature, a technique the filmmaker uses to record the situation on board in an apparently neutral way as if she were an outsider with a tourist view, the letter tells another story.
CARGO is no ordinary travelogue relating a traveller’s discoveries and experiences in images. A trip on a freighter is a totally different experience to the one the ordinary traveller will make, “you seemed to be always be travelling without getting anywhere” reflects the writer on the circumstances on board.
As in previous productions, such as The Lost Days (1999), Waddington uses the travelogue as a pattern to tell a personal story and/or a social story. For most of the young men on board, the romance of the carefree life of the seaman has lost its shine along the way. Many have ended up in a hopeless situation: some have received no pay for months, some have not been ashore for years. The uncertainty, being totally at the mercy of the owners on shore, who are sometimes not in touch for weeks at a time, places them in a world that is very remote from ours.
Waddington portrays this world as an isolated mini-society with its own laws and rules, calling on port after port, without being part of the world ashore. The detached and observing manner of filming in combination with the grainy image strengthens the feeling of a strange world, closed, far from ours. That her stay there was only temporary and that the letter is written in the past tense makes the picture Waddington paints even more poignant.
The epilogue brings us back to Paris. There are travellers here too: the commuters in the underground on the way to work, the Japanese tourist in front of her hotel entrance. The voice over tells that one of the men on board has phoned – to say he missed her. CARGO deals with the existential status of being on the road, of going from a to b, arriving and leaving, going away and returning home again, and everything imbetween. It deals with the short-lived meetings with people underway who then disappear out of your life and become a memory. In short with life itself.”
Christel Vesters, “CARGO”, World Wide Video Festival Catalogue, Amsterdam 2001