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Originally published Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 10:06 PM

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'Two Years at Sea': adrift in a hermit's isolated, cloudy existence

A movie review of "Two Years at Sea," a portrait of Scottish Highlands hermit Jake Williams. It was directed by experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers and shot on 16-millimeter black-and-white film.

The New York Times

Movie review

'Two Years at Sea,' with Jake Williams. Directed by Ben Rivers. 88 minutes. Not rated. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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"Two Years at Sea," an enveloping portrait of a Scottish Highlands hermit from the experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers, is shot on 16-millimeter black-and-white film that feels at once tactile and evanescent. Similarly, the daily life we see of Jake Williams (the hermit who actually does live alone in a forest) is mundane and mysterious. The bearded Williams putters among junk, LPs and scarified snapshots (shown in montage), through varying shades of light and darkness, in a car, a raft and a camper. But his motives and means remain as cloudy as the overcast sky.

Williams, previously profiled in Rivers' more documentarylike short "This Is My Land," inhabits a fortress of solitude with a long lineage in the arts (and existence). Yet Rivers goes beyond traditional touchstones, as if to portray a purer isolation. Thoreauvian self-sufficiency or classical pastoral engagement with nature and its creatures takes a back seat to the company of objects, trees and music. Williams at times feels more like a figure in a landscape than a man living off the land.

The result is haunting, as a fishing trip on a jury-rigged raft turns into a James Benning- esque living landscape, yet also undeniably austere. Its final, shiver-inducing shot by fireside suggests a man disappearing into darkness itself.

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