Two Years At Sea: Little Happens, Nothing Is Explained

Ben Rivers’ video talks about a guy who lives in a rural Scottish cottage. We look into detail about his everyday existence – but don’t know why. Join him at his ‘slow cinema.’

This may be the worst post-screening party in cinematic history. While sipping tea and screeching in an abandoned farmhouse courtyard deep in an Aberdeenshire pine forest, the clock strikes two in the early hours of the morning. A magnificent white beard and wire-framed blue eyes characterise the property owner, Jake Williams. He is the only protagonist of the film, which may or may not be a good thing. Together with Chu-li Shewring, Ben Rivers are seated exactly across from him in the director’s chair. Nothing else needs to be said. 

Williams has finished filming the closing incidence of Rivers’ first film, in which he stares into a dying fire. For the second time tonight, they add car tyres and fan the smoke. He’s unhappy.

It is now quite evident that Rivers has no intention of wreaking havoc on the entertainment industry. The reverse is true. It is a 16mm Bolex photograph with the black-and-white film that he chooses to use and develop in his sinks kitchen in London, where he lives. Over the past few decades, he’s created over 20 short films that lack story and character development. Many individuals are more believed to have come across his work at an art photoshop or one of his film festivals, but that might affect the production of Two Years At Sea. He complains that more exposition irritates him when it comes to Hollywood films. He also added that films that leave a lot to the viewer are his favourite kind.

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Two Years At Sea should provide lots of entertainment for its target audience. Is he real? Is he faking? We’ve never gotten answers to any of these questions. Even the title of the book baffles me. We observe Williams doing his solitary business, such as brewing coffee, bathing, and reading a book. This man’s life, however, is anything from average. An odd mix of junk store and municipal landfill, his home is littered with reclaimed furniture, tools, agricultural equipment, and other memorabilia. His modest area is surrounded by crumbling trailers crammed with even more discarded goods. His “shower” consists of a series of hoses and taps set up in front of the kitchen window as a temporary solution. It makes no difference. There isn’t anybody else in the area.

In Rivers’ film, Williams’ existence is a dream of absolute seclusion, complete independence, and leisure to do as he pleases in a realm of do-as-you-please. For all we know, this Mad Max-like character may be the last man on Earth, digging through the wreckage of an extinct civilisation for anything of value. Rivers is attracted to eccentrics and misfits like Williams, who built their worlds outside culture. This free-range family in the Scottish countryside is shown in Ah Liberty, a film from 2008. I Know Where I’m Going pays a visit to a geologist who lives in the woods. Rivers says that every one of them is a fiercely unique person. To him, the most exciting places to explore are the hermetic, highly-detailed universes that individuals have built for themselves, free of any constraints imposed by society.

Slow Action, which reinvented four islands in various parts of the world as post-apocalyptic cultures caused by rising sea levels, is described in a voiceover by sci-fi writer Mark von Schlegell as the latest addition to his sci-fi-inspired repertory. Rivers states in his video that they’re looking for more into the future than into the past, confessing to a particular apocalyptic propensity. He feels that they live in a relatively unstable environment with too many people in many of these cases. But I usually think of myself as being pessimistic in a relatively sharp sense but optimistic in a long-term approach. A lot of his films are full of optimism.

Rivers admits to some apocalyptic inclinations in his work, saying his films “gaze considerably more into the future than the past. Many people are alarmed by having too many people living in a volatile climate. He considered himself an optimist. He believes his work has an optimistic tone.

Rivers thoroughly understands the art form as an art school graduate and Brighton’s eclectic Cinematheque co-founder. However, the 40-year-old has also drawn inspiration from literature like Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis and Norwegian author Knut Hamsun’s novel Pan, which also feature a lonesome man living in the woods. To produce a movie featuring woodland hermits, Rivers even embarked on a trip to Norway inspired by Peter Pan. He couldn’t locate any. On his return, a friend introduced him to Williams, who featured in Rivers’ first short film, This Is My Land (2006).

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Rivers received $35,000 funding from the London-based Film London Artists Moving Image Network to shoot his movie. He decided to go since there was much more to be done there. As a result, he was introduced to the other attendees via word of mouth at the event. He told her that they already had a relationship and knew how to cope with him continued to be the case. He knows he may ask him to do something on Monday and wait for a week before asking him again to convince him to comply. The key, I guess, is to be aware of both the rhythm and the constraints of the person in question.

Two Years At Sea is a work of fiction, as Rivers clarifies in his remarks. According to Rivers, the Jake we see in the movie is “an exaggeration.” He acted as an actor while directing Jake. In addition, there are a few hints of surrealism. In the film’s incredible special effects scene, When Jake goes to sleep inside one of his caravans, it floats in the air. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a tree when he opens the door. According to Rivers, you’re still fictionalising someone even if the events are staged. Among the most significant documentary filmmakers ever, Robert Flaherty and Humphrey Jennings, Rivers points out that they both staged events. He says that Flaherty’s Nanook of the North is like “mockumentaries” like Spinal Tap in tone.

“Genuine” Williams is very different from his onscreen image. This man has Everything he needs, including a daughter, a phone, and a computer, apart from his family and close friends. The book’s title refers to the fact that he was a merchant marine for two years. The house where he has lived for the past 30 years was purchased upon his return. He never thought of himself as a hermit, but he bought a house because he was fed up with renting.

He avoids landlords like the plague because they have a bad reputation in his book. His hoarding is an illness of the mind that is slammed with an air of caution by him. Save jam jars because you never know when you’ll want to make jam. He was a skilled mandolinist who performed with Waterboys frontman Mike Scott on stage and thoroughly enjoyed his time as Rivers’ celebrity.

During the production of Two Years At Sea, Rivers coined “slow cinema.” In this case, audiovisuals take precedence over traditional narrative, indicating a more contemplative film. Béla Tarr, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tarkovsky, and Antonioni may be considered the movement’s spiritual ancestors, alongside Béla Tarr, since Rivers began making Two Years At Sea. The word is an excellent fit for Rivers’ work. Two Years At Sea has moments where you feel like you’re watching a picture being taken, but there’s enough movement to let you know that time is moving forward.

Even though Two Years At Sea won a Venice Film Festival award in 2011, it has also been criticised for being formless, opaque and even hypnotic. When you watch a movie like Two Years At Sea, you have to use your imagination to create the visuals, whereas when you read a book, you get the storyline and then use your imagination to create the pictures. An extra layer of intrigue is added to the lyrical beauty captured in the beautifully framed shots thanks to the film’s smudges, scratches, and flares. Everything is in motion at all times. At the end of the film, even Williams appears to be asleep. The final shot of him staring into the dying flames concludes the film. As the scene darkens, he looks into the dying flames, struggling to open his eyes. With the “one last take,” Rivers got what he wanted. In the end, they succeeded.

Two Years At Sea will be available in the United Kingdom on May 4th.

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