PICTURED ABOVE: ‘Jake’ in the Scottish wilderness in Two Years at Sea
Published: 3 May, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
This extraordinary piece of art tells the story of Jake, a loner who has retreated into the Aberdeenshire forests to grow a hefty beard, chop logs, do his best on limited means to keep nourished, and generally ignore what the rest of us are up to.
Director Ben Rivers is an artist rather than a film-maker, someone who creates pieces using film, as opposed to using film to tell a story.
Be fully aware of this before you pay up at the box office, or you may walk out after 10 minutes of wondering when the action kicks in.
But if you pretend you’re going to an art gallery where the pieces move across your vision and you can eat popcorn rather than wander from room to room, this film is pretty stunning.
Jake has retreated from you, me and everybody to become a modern hermit and is doing a good job of escaping the trappings of today.
Lying under oilskins and filthy blankets, he tinkers about using decrepit tools to lop the odd branch off a handy tree for a fire, and shower in a home-made contraption that provides steamy hot water for his skinny flesh.
He is a contemporary Thoreau with a Scottish Walden Pond.
His home is a creaking orchestra, with the players the wind and rain.
Rivers did not need to choose a soundtrack. Instead we are kept enthralled by a mixture of sitar music that wafts from the gramophone, mixed together with the sounds of the environment Jake has immersed himself in.
The noise of a ratchet strap being tightened as Jake, for some inexplicable reason, bends a mature tree to the ground is a typical use of the extraordinary sounds used to give the images a partner.
There is just one line I can recall as Jake opens up a mouldy wash-bag and pulls an out-of-date bottle of unspecified liquid from within. “Chesty Cough,” he mutters.
He is also incredibly resourceful.
We watch as he builds a raft for fishing on a loch, his home a ramshackle patched-up lodge of sorts that he is continually maintaining.
There are questions you want to ask: What does he eat?
What got him out of the rat-race and into the woods?
Did he have a job, a wife, a family?
Is he suffering from a mental illness?
And where does he get loo roll?
But it is also part of the charm – the lack of answers adds to why this film is such an intriguing piece of cinema.