Two Years at Sea (2011, Ben Rivers)

Watched this because Rivers is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50, and because I get him confused with Ben Russell. Rivers thanks Russell in the credits, and when this opened with the long follow-cam on a man trudging through snow I had to remind myself again that this was a different Ben. Now I hear they’ve got a collaborative film in the works. Think I’m gonna keep getting them confused.

Sometimes I don’t know how much advance reading I should do before watching a movie. In this case I did none at all, and was annoyed and bored through most of the movie, thinking it a pretentious, wordless pseudo-doc about a beardy hippie-turned-survivalist, but I retroactively appreciated it upon reading that it’s a real doc about a real hippie-turned-survivalist. So, after Mekong Hotel, this is the second movie I’ve watched this week that I didn’t realize was supposed to be (at least partly) a documentary.

I also appreciate the movie’s utility in putting me to sleep about three times while I had the flu.

Especially during this scene:

The physical film (on my digital copy) lets itself be known through flicker, grain and the occasional messy edit. Whole thing is blurry and indistinct, with a Begotten-processed feel. Natural sound with occasional Indian-sounding music plus one folky song.

Seattle Weekly:

The hand-cranking accounts for the wavering of light and shifting tempo of motion within shots; the homemade processing accounts for the amoeba-like chemical puckers that dapple the image. The lone, almost expeditionary nature of Rivers’ operation matches his involuted subjects, for his is a cinema of privileged moments and stubbornly private people.

Sometimes seems like the documentary equivalent of The Turin Horse, with even the same ending, as a campfire burns out and the scene is gradually enveloped by darkness. But let’s not overuse the word “documentary” here. A half hour in, while the man sleeps, his trailer ascends into the treetops – then stays there, with no explanation. Reminds me of the random rocketship/tightrope scenes in Still Life, but more well-integrated.

Rivers explains the title: “Jake is seen in all seasons, surviving frugally, passing the time with strange projects, living the radical dream he had as a younger man, a dream he spent two years working at sea to realise.”

H. Guest:

Rivers’ major works include a series of hypnotic films – This Is My Land (2006), The Origin of the Species (2008), I Know Where I’m Going (2009) and Two Years at Sea (2011) – that offer sumptuously cinematographic portraits of extraordinary lives lived out of time, lands stubbornly resistant to the turn of the century. Featuring ragged self-made men living in worlds entirely of their own creation, Rivers’ quartet, like Costa’s Fontainhas trilogy, gives cinematic form to the private visions and incantatory fantasies of untethered characters who have floated far from the known mainland. … They reveal Rivers’ neo-Romantic search for a kind of sublime, for lives defined by the danger of rapturous annihilation by a vast indifferent Nature.

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