“The world is full of more weeping than you can understand.”
So goes the prologue to Song of the Sea, an animated feature that argues grief and sadness have their proper place in the childhood experience. It’s a jarring proposition, one the movie handles with a real feel for sorrow.
Rooted in Celtic legends of selkies (seals who become humans) and the tale of a king so broken by grief that he cried out an entire sea, the film nonetheless focuses on two everyday characters: a brother and sister who live with their father in a lighthouse. The father is mourning his own loss, while the little girl remains mute. Could it be because she’s a selkie?
Song of the Sea, which comes from The Secret of Kells director Tomm Moore, is a bit scattered in terms of story, as it sends the siblings on a back-and-forth journey to the city that’s intertwined with other elements of Celtic folklore. Yet visually, it’s often astonishing, especially in those moments that recall the geometric wonder of Kells. (Moore favors overhead “shots,” in which a circle centers the frame and various details and figures are arranged all around.)
Especially striking is the repeated visual motif of a man hunched in somber reflection: first evoked by the aforementioned king; next by a hulking, rocky island near the lighthouse; and then by the children’s dad, stooped over his stool at a pub. Song of the Sea is a reminder that grief is a stolid thing – for children and grownups alike.