Film: Two Years At Sea
Katrina Zaat reviews this stunning new documentary
by Katrina Zaat
Monday 14th May 2012, 21:45 BST
You won’t so much as glimpse the sea in this documentary by experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers.
The film’s subject, Jake Williams, lives alone in the Scottish Highlands, and the title explains how he earned the money to buy the remote property he now calls home. Waters and Jake never talk—we only hear Jake muttering to himself here and there. So we’re left to form our own impressions of his daily existence, and his possible reasons for choosing it.
Despite the Scottish setting, the aesthetic is overwhelmingly American – Ansel Adams via Thoreau, topped off with a grizzled, Whitman-bearded hero. Waters shot his footage using an old Bolex camera and 16mm film, which he developed himself. As a result, even the stillest shot of a pine-edged skyline sizzles with scratches and static, and any pale-coloured object throws off a wobbly halo.
At times, the whole thing verges on pioneer kitsch – arty shots of woodpiles and reflected clouds abound. But the sheer busyness of the analog image, combined with long, still takes, succeeds in creating a supercharged, reverential atmosphere. Nothing happens for minutes on end except for nature being itself, with only Jake (and Rivers’ camera) to witness it.
We do see Jake working at this or that DIY job, but these bursts of vigorous activity all seem to have stillness as their final aim. He hoists a caravan into a treetop; he walks all the way to a pond with the makings of a raft on his back, and builds and launches it on the spot.
All so he can find new places to sit still and pay attention. Everything about Jake, from his unkempt hair to his junk-filled house, suggests that he is a man comfortable with entropy. A voluntary Rip Van Winkle, most at ease stretched out on his improvised raft or on a bed of prickly gorse, smiling serenely, he looks ready at any moment to melt back into the world that made him.
I’ve declined to suggest a star-rating for this one—it’s just too damn odd. No dialogue, no plot—you’ve been warned. However, if you’ve been dreaming of escape into more peaceful zones, this film might be the thing to take you there.