Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh
Mark Jenkins made an impressive feature debut in 2019 with Bait – a story about the gentrification of a Cornish fishing village. Filmed in monochrome, using hand-cranked 16 mm stock, it had a distinctive look, akin to one of those old public information shorts that still pop up on Youtube. The film received a well-deserved BAFTA for ‘outstanding debut by a British director’.
Enys Men (Stone Island) is both more ambitious and more nebulous than its predecessor. Jenkins has progressed to colour, but even that is done on his own terms, retaining that grungy, scratchy look he’s known for. He’s also retained the services of Mary Woodvine, who played a wealthy, holiday-cottage owner in Bait. Here, she’s ‘The Volunteer,’ marooned on a remote island off the Cornish coast, tramping industriously around the rocky landscape in a vivid red waterproof jacket. Her daily task is to keep tabs on a bunch of rare flowers.
According to her daily log, it’s the year 1973; day after day, she steadfastly records the fact that nothing has changed. Not a thing. But it’s clear from early on that her life is shadowed by vivid memories and by a series of troubling hallucinations. Who is ‘The Girl’ (Flo Crowe), who hangs around the woman’s cottage, observing her routine? And who is the elusive ‘Boatman’ (Edward Rowe, another familiar face from Bait), who regularly contacts The Volunteer via a short wave radio, promising to bring supplies, most crucially petrol for the generator.
And then there are other characters, less easy to explain – silent milkmaids, singing children, and dirt-plastered tin miners – whose expressionless visages seem to stare across the centuries in silent accusation.
Enys Men is the kind of film that flings out plenty of questions but takes its own sweet time before offering just one or two answers. Indeed, the glacial pace and the constant use of repetition test my patience at times (as does the guy sitting next to me, who spends most of the evening looking at his phone) and it’s probably fair to say that Jenkins’ script needs a little more flesh on its bones to adequately fill the film’s one-hour-thirty-six-minute running time.
Still, for all that, this is an offering that will inspire plenty of conversation long after the final credits have rolled. Jenkins is a true auteur and, though Enys Men certainly won’t be for everyone, it’s nonetheless a unique viewing experience.
3. 6 stars