Two Years at Sea

Jake Williams, one of the subjects of Two Years at Sea

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Time Out says

Posted: Mon Oct 8 2012

They could be images unearthed from another era, perhaps from another planet—a verdant dreamscape of fog and forest, photographed on gorgeously distressed black-and-white film stock with prevalent light leaks and emulsion burn. Our protagonist, it turns out, is human. He’s Jake Williams, a bearded recluse of practically no words (“socks” is his most audible utterance) who lives in a rundown abode in the Scottish Highlands. Things are different here: Time crawls by at an extremely measured pace. Daily tasks are relegated to bare essentials like chopping wood or doing laundry. And enough strange things happen—how exactly does that decrepit mobile home get up into that tree?—that the film’s designation as a documentary seems misapplied.

Director Ben Rivers has filmed Williams before, for his 2006 short “This Is My Land.” This feature-length offshoot adheres to certain particulars of its subject’s life—he does indeed live off the grid—while amplifying the alien strangeness of his existence. One mesmerizing scene captures the bushy-haired subject launching a makeshift raft onto a lake, settling in until the water around him is completely still. In another stunning sequence, we observe as Williams’s face becomes shrouded in total darkness while a fire burns down to ash. Such moments feel like a profoundly harmonic convergence between man and nature, though mileage will vary from viewer to viewer as to whether this singularly eccentric movie is ultimately illuminating or enervating.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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