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Immersion Cinema: C.W. Winter and Anders Edström's "The Anchorage"

On C.W. Winter and Anders Edström’s lovely new film, "The Anchorage."
Photo by The Anchorage cinematographer and co-director Anders Edström.
I’ve had a few lucky vacations that remind me of C.W. Winter and Anders Edström’s lovely new film, The Anchorage.  They were on the chilly coast of Northern California, and the vacations weren't so much a change of activity as they were a change of location for my daily activities: Day to day life remained much the same, but the backdrop and the context were different. Contentment was based simply on this change of situation, of being there, and filling that "there" with the minimal activities of daily upkeep, the refreshment of passing through the wooded area of beaches and cliffs, getting accustomed to the surroundings, and finding harmony in the feel, the palette, the smell and taste of the coast. The Anchorage—which is more location than setting, less plot than simply human behavior integrated into surroundings—marvelously carries with it these qualities I thought I'd find only in the outside world.
The film covers and captures a few days on the Baltic coast of Sweden at the remote house of a widow. "Covers and captures" are, I think, the most appropriate terms to describe Winter and Edström’s direction. They have an unusual and fresh sensibility that seems to cast a warm, almost serene layer on top of the things photographed and the time elapsed. More precisely, they are attracted to their subject with a patient, poetic documentary aspect that lightly, supplely grabs observations from a casual, considered distance.  Loose camerawork, which helps immediately and thoroughly keep the film away from rigid pretensions or gray solemnity despite the film's cinereal color scheme, finds minute symmetries and harmonies in the dense wallpaper of foliage flattened in long shot that makes up the surroundings in which the widow lives.  A young couple of friends visit; we see the woman’s trips to bathe in the cold water a walk’s way from her small house; her trips to buy supplies in town; her fixing her fishing netting; and other quiet occurrences.  Related through hints in the background of frames only a local would find anomalous, and also through a voiceover as succinct and modestly factual as the film itself, a stranger appears in the isolated area and, with oblique reference to Jeanne Dielman, subtly disrupts the woman’s routine.
But really this “drama,” like Chekhov first-act gun, is an excuse to introduce some structure to a film that could potentially continue on in endless observance of activities uninterested in the beauty of process, of passages through landscapes with no mind towards the severity of the pictorial.  The film instead "captures" something somewhere between documentary and fiction, laying the film’s sparse production itself bare, nearly as bare as The Anchorage’s warmly weathered contents and relaxed, vulnerable atmosphere.  It is the kind of movie where the appearance of the hunter, in retrospective, is upstaged by a sequence where, over a series of shots, we see the minute changes in the day's clouded, rainy weather as the woman attends to several dockside chores.  Above all, the film is exquisitely dedicated to that particular tone where you can sense the morning’s temperature by the light of the day, understand the thick frailty of the local trees, feel the calmed lonesomeness of tidily lit interiors at night, laugh and at the same time grasp at the silly radio voices that are reminders of the far off, unseen and unfelt.  A retreat of a film, yet in its microcosmic focus and seclusion, an extension to textures, sounds, and feelings of ambiance and setting far beyond the average cinema.
***
The Anchorage plays at New York's Anthology Film Archives 17 - 23 September, 2010.

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