Two Years At Sea

25 Oct

It is interesting when we consider who we brand as eccentrics in today’s reality TV/X Factor-infused society, happily revelling in the comparative strangeness of others. Of course this categorisation of them being the odd ones in the equation is often simply because they are different to ourselves, whether it be their appearance, lifestyle or because they choose to live a different way. Considering this, Ben Rivers’ Two Years At Seamight offer some food for thought next time you consider who is living the strange life.

Nominated for the Jarman Prize and picking up the Tiger Award at Rotterdam International Film Festival, artist Ben Rivers penetrates the human condition with his camera, gently tearing down the veil that obscures and alienates the brave individuals who remove themselves from society. Two Years at Sea is case and point. Continuing from a relationship Rivers’ established in 2006 in his short film, This Is My Land, this feature length work follows Jake along his arboreal life in the Aberdeenshire wilderness.

Living alone, Jake has stripped himself of what most of us consider necessities in the shape of electronic technologies and running water, but somehow he seems richer in his ramshackle house filled with knick-knacks and remnants of yesteryear. As such, his house resembles not so much a time capsule of the past but rather a time line of the possessions of our society taken back to their very origins of nature.

Using 16mm, the film’s vintage appearance, as Jake walks amidst the grainy haze of the meadow or his face crackles by the fire, makes it even more difficult to understand that this is the present day and that people can – and do – decide to live outside society and outside materialism. Cinematically, the film is stunning, capturing slow and poignant snapshots of a life; with minimal soundtrack, or sound of any description, you soon find yourself immersed in the lonesome silence Jake endures every day.

Only it doesn’t seem something to ‘endure’, rather something he adores. Never once acknowledging the camera, I almost found myself wishing he would look into the lens and make a connection with the audience he must have known he was captivating – but instead he carries on about his day. This ignorance of the external world which seems to simply evade his interest adds to the intrigue Rivers’ creates with his mastery of a subject whose defiance of modernity seems to define his very existence.

While certainly art-house and no doubt finding itself at a loss in any category other than the LFF’s Experimentia strand, Two Years at Sea is an intriguing and resonating portrait of a man whose life would otherwise have remained buried in the peripheries.

Two Years at Sea was screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) as part of the Experimentia strand, on Friday 21 and Monday 24 October.

(As featured on thelondonword.com)

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