Posts Tagged ‘Ben Rivers’

In October, I submitted a festival report on the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (mostly about the Wavelengths section) to the online journal Offscreen, and the editor, Donato Totaro, was kind enough to accept it. The new issue just went up and you can read my article there.


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Ten years after Sweet Sixteen (2002), Ken Loach returns to Scotland with The Angels’ Share (2012) to tell another story about a troubled young man, although this time the protagonist isn’t doomed from the outset. The film’s hero, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), is a baby-faced ruffian who’s trying to go straight and be a good father to his infant son, which is especially difficult as he’s embroiled in a Hatfield-McCoy-style feud with another young hooligan whose father used to fight Robbie’s dad. However, things start to turn around for him under the guidance of his community service supervisor (John Henshaw), who introduces Robbie to the world of whisky appreciation. Starting out as a gritty drama in the bleakest sections of Glasgow, the movie eventually morphs into a beguiling heist comedy in the Highlands, proving that Loach is a more versatile director than he’s usually given credit for. And while there’s nothing very original about the story, the actors and locations feel so authentic that they carry one past the rough patches in Paul Laverty’s script.

Although its subject matter may remind one of certain films by Robert Flaherty and Stan Brakhage, formally and stylistically Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea (2011) doesn’t have much in common with either. Ostensibly the movie is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a year in the life of Jake Williams, a hippy mountain man living in total isolation in the backwoods of Scotland, but it’s obvious that much of what we see in the film was staged for the camera. (At one point, while Williams takes a nap, the caravan in which he’s sleeping inexplicably floats to the top of a tall tree.) Apart from Williams occasionally mumbling to himself, the movie doesn’t have any dialogue, nor does it use an offscreen narrator or any onscreen text, so that we don’t learn anything about Williams’ life beyond what Rivers records with his camera. Periodically we see still photographs of people who could be Williams’ family and friends, but rather than telling us something about his life, they merely underscore how little we really know about him. Indeed, the film is so resolutely material in its documentation of Williams’ daily activities that it’s impossible to gauge his state of mind or how content he is with this hermitic existence. In other words, the movie isn’t concerned with biography or psychology but texture and timbre.

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