out of Five
Running time: 90
Artist filmmaker Ben Rivers' beguiling Two Years at Sea has picked up many prizes at film festivals over the last six months. His portrait of an eccentric hermit living in the Scottish highlands celebrates both an unusual life but also the beauty of increasingly obsolete 16mm film.
What's it all about?
Two years at sea was what Jake Williams had to endure in order to buy his remote, ramshackle home deep in the Scottish highlands, where he lives in total isolation. Ben Rivers' film about Jake's life there falls somewhere between documentary and fiction as we observe him going about everyday tasks (showering, fishing, felling trees) throughout the seasons as well as some more outlandish ventures too, such as hauling his caravan up onto the tree tops, or going rafting on icy lakes. What emerges is a remarkable portrait of both Jake and his surroundings.
The slow pace of the film mimics that of Jake's everyday life, as Rivers' camera lingers on the piles of objects and homemade contraptions lying around his home and rests for lengthy takes on the magnificent scenery outside. For some it may be too austere, but as you become accustomed to the film’s leisurely rhythm, it really does transport you into a meditative state, and paints a sense of what life in the wild might be like.
Never mocked as he might be if this was a reality TV show, Jake is largely silent throughout and remains an enigma. Rivers often returns to photographs at the start of scenes - those picturing a younger Jake, his relatives etc, but no further -information is given apart from these brief glimpses into his past. He instead relies on the imagination of his audiences to fill in the gaps.
This is an exquisitely crafted piece of cinema. Rivers uses black and white 16mm film which he develops himself, refusing to airbrush out its many imperfections. The texture of the film as a result looks nothing like the bland digital offerings normally found on cinema screens, and lends the starkly beautiful views of mountains and forests an eerie and otherworldly feel.
While the term escapist cinema might bring to mind the latest blockbuster, Ben River's Two Years at Sea is a cinematic adventure in a remote Scottish forest, that really does offer 90 minutes of pure, serene escapism.
Two Years At Sea (U)