After a cryptic opening scene depicting a young boy wading through a river to find a hidden box, Black Ocean is set almost entirely aboard a French naval vessel crossing the South Pacific. The film quickly focuses on the young sailors rather than the officers, who are mostly distant authority figures. From all the young sailors, three emerge as the protagonists: the warm and kind Massina (Nicolas Robin) who acts as guardian to the ship’s resident stray dog, the moody and troubled Moriaty (Adrien Jolivet) who befriends him, and Chubby Da Maggio (Romain David), an outsider picked on by the other sailors, who attaches himself to Massina and Moriaty in a way that’s simultaneously calculated and genuine. None of the sailors’ backgrounds or reasons for joining the navy are explored, and the characters form their attachments to each other isolation.
The plot is loose, following the young men as they bond, argue, and endure the difficult day-to-day life of the ship. Their actions and journey seem to have no particular purpose or destination, with one day very much like the next and occasional shore leaves on tropical islands making only a brief interruption to the drudgery. However, the film does finally reveal the destination of their journey: the island of Mururoa, where the French government was conducting controversial and likely dangerous atomic tests. The young men’s isolated coming-of-age is suddenly placed in the real world as they witness a mushroom cloud rising over the ocean in the distance.
“Belgian filmmaker Marion Hänsel, weaves together a dark commentary on France’s nuclear weapons testing programme of the 1970s with a haunting meditation on the traumas of adolescence.”
— James Travers, Le Film Guide
Did You Know?
Director Marion Hänsel commented in an interview that the Navy, like the Scouts or the army, can play the role of a new family, and serve as a guide. Cans of beer drunk by Masina, Moriaty and Chubby in Black Ocean have a modern opening system, not from the 1970’s period that the film is set in. Review our Gay Themed Films Here