The Anchorage -- Film Review

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VIENNA -- Only ultra-patient audiences should seek berth at "The Anchorage," a glacier-paced experimental independent feature that downplays narrative development in favor of elemental atmospherics with intriguing but ultimately frustrating results.

Winner of the "Filmmakers of the Present" competition at Switzerland's Locarno Film Festival, this is a meticulously composed debut from Tokyo-based Swede Anders Edstrom and California's C. W. Winter (the former is credited as cinematographer, the latter as scriptwriter, both sharing directing/editing duties). It may appeal primarily to festival programmers and attendees seeking hypnotically rarefied fare. Kelly Reichardt's similarly over-subtle "Old Joy" translated critical favor into successful distribution a couple of years back, yet the even lower-key "Anchorage" has much dimmer commercial horizons.

Indeed, so matter-of-fact is it in recording the habits of a middle-aged woman (Edstrom's mother Ulla) in and around her house on the Stockholm archipelago, one might almost mistake it for verite documentary. Ulla lives alone. She's paid a visit by her grown-up daughter, but there's no sign of a husband. Is she a widow?

She has certain daily routines, starting with a long dawn-break walk through a forest to a rocky shore where she strips and immerses herself for a few strokes in the icy-looking water. She performs this 'ritual' several times during the film's 87 minutes, culminating in a dip which differs from the others in one small, telling detail.

We may draw certain conclusions -- biographical, psychological, perhaps even sociological and anthropological -- from events we seen and hear, innocuous happenings that we may construct into something resembling a "story."

Much of art cinema has, of course, been exploring "post-narrative" fictional possibilities for some time. It can be refreshing to experience a placid movie, which allows us to contemplate nature and our place within it. "The Anchorage," via Jeff Mooridian's intricate sound-design, captures such easily taken-for-granted delights as birdsong, wind in the trees, the gurgling of water.

While they craft some immaculately-framed 16mm images, Winter and Edstrom -- unsurprisingly, a photographer by trade -- don't provide sufficient rewards to justify the considerable effort and attention they so quietly, so insistently demand.

Venue: Viennale (Vienna International Film Festival)
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