Two Years at Sea
Directed by Ben Rivers
On its surface a hand-cranked portrait of a guy just doing his thing, this first feature by the British experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers develops into a weirdly moving natural-habitat reflection. The black-and-white pseudo-doc concerns the Rip Van Winkle-bearded Jake, who lives alone (save for his cat) deep in the woods of the Scottish Highlands in the kind of cluttered, gone-to-seed compound that usually appears in movies as a temporary hideout from post-apocalyptic trouble.
Some elements of the film are quite patently staged, such as the surreal levitation of a front-yard trailer into a treetop, but Rivers mostly observes his silent subject going about bits of business—hiking through the snow, rummaging through drawers of miscellany, collecting firewood—or else straight-up napping. You gradually glean from Jake’s body language that he’s long since stopped distinguishing housework from leisure and that achieving this equilibrium hasn’t required a full forsaking of his past life in society: he rummages through old photographs and plays records over a PA loudspeaker as he tinkers about in the yard. And, of course, he's allowing another person to film him.
The calm (if not quite blissful) Two Years at Sea has the appearance of something Jake might’ve unearthed at home, shot as it is on 16mm that’s been blown up to 35mm, possessing a kind of ambient flicker. Grain crackles against silver skies and fog-laced evergreen tree-lines; faint air-bubble warpings appear to percolate under the scenery. The movie's antique look situates the aura of tranquility as anachronous, while the duration of many shots seems calibrated to Jake’s general presentness in time. At one point, he boards a homemade raft and drifts into the middle of a loch; on its slow journey from the left side of the frame to the right, his vessel appears to travel for a time along the edge of the water’s reflection of the hill looming in the background—a magnificently simple study of a man content to take what direction he can from his surroundings.
Opens October 12 at Anthology Film Archives