Interesting watch though I'm a bit bewildered what camera moves so impressed St. G. Not saying they're not there; just that's not what impressed me about the camerawork. So let me start with that. There are occasional beautiful shots - a good mix of scenery and composition - but most of the time the camera is serving the story, not giving us lots of picture postcards of the view. What struck me almost instantly though was a sense that the cinematography was moving away from the silent era and towards a more modern concept of cinematography. Okay, let's be frank, there are plenty of shots where the subject is bang in the center of frame and pretty much fills the space, but there are also plenty of shots where someone (there are four cinematographers credited on the film, in addition to Epstein as director) is putting effort into composition. That was quite pleasing.
Another thing that will probably strike one is the movie doesn't have those horrible silent era actors who use such exaggerated gestures that the blind can see their emotions. There may have been one or two instances that were a bit exaggerated, but most of the time, the characters simply were. And were any of these non-professional actors even in makeup? I certainly didn't notice and it's one of the big creeps I have with silents - those black lips! Anyway, I thought the acting worked really well in telling the story. And it's probable the actors wore their own clothes as well. So there's a serious feeling of authenticity in the work.
As for the story, it mostly works though there are
1) Characters bemoaning the lack of wind, cut, ribbon on women's bonnets flapping in the stiff breeze. Yes, there are days were even offshore islands and headlands are becalmed, but not a lot, so while it's important to the story, Mother Nature wasn't cooperative.
2) This was made pre-penicillin. While I'll buy a young guy not paying attention to a wound; given their line of work, I really think the older guys would have been watching out for any sign of injury. Why? For exactly the reasons the movie shows: small wounds can cost fingers or arms if not cared for.
3) Epstein makes an issue of the mothers, upon introduction in the story, not getting along. I wasn't quite sure what was meant by this. Does any little slight - like a dropped bottle of wine or misplaced pocketknife - reopen an inter-generational rift between next door neighbors and young men who are stuck on an uninhabited island for three months during the summer become enemies? Or are we supposed to be more moved by the women coming together when they are worried? Not that it matters in the end, but I spent plenty of time wondering what was up with that.
4) In the second to last shot, I couldn't tell if the mothers were telling the doctor, "Go, we'll take care of him." or pawing at the man as if to say, "Don't leave him ... " If that latter, that's totally unbelievable given the circumstances in which the story is set.
No deal breakers, but they did pull me away from the story.
On this being included on a list of documentaries, I find myself wondering what gives. It's clearly narrative in structure though I understand based on real events. Are the actors the actual people recreating their own story? Or were the voters pointing to this film as influential to the genre? Anyway, don't go in expecting a documentary or even docu-drama: this was pretty straight-up drama.
All in all, an enjoyable watch even if I tend to over think things a bit. It certainly is 'better than average' for the silent era, but when taken as a whole and rating against my system, I'd judge it just better than average: a strong 7, but not strong enough to make 8 stars.