Chris Eyre's A Year In Mooring Premieres at SXSW

Chris Eyre's A Year In Mooring Premieres at SXSW

Brendan graduated from the University of Wisconsin in August 2009 with a degree in film. While there, he studied various aspects of the history of film, but with a special emphasis on American Independent Cinema and the Avant-Garde.

Date Posted: 
2011-03-24 00:00

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A Year in Mooring is the latest film from Native director (and Vision Maker Media board member) Chris Eyre.  The film had its world premiere at the recent South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, with both the director, and star/producer Josh Lucas in attendance. It is the first feature by Eyre to deal with non-Native themes, though it is as meditative and inscrutable as anything put out by him thus far. It stars Lucas (Glory Road, A Beautiful Mind) as a character never referred to by name, known only in the credits as Young Mariner, who buys an old, beat-up sail-boat in Grand Traverse, Michigan. The Young Mariner spends a year in port fixing up the aged boat in order to cope with a recent trauma depicted throughout the film only in brief, ambiguous flashbacks. We ascertain that the Young Mariner is dealing with some kind of loss, but we never know the specifics, only that he has left his old life behind, reminders of which come in the form of the Young Mariner’s former boss who sneaks onto the boat to ask when the Young Mariner will be coming back to work. While in port, the Young Mariner befriends a waitress attempting to quit smoking - played by the lovely Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer - and an old mariner, played by James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential),  who is dealing with a loss of his own.  These characters help the Young Mariner come to terms with his pain, and he, in turn, helps them get a grip on their own.

A Year in Mooring is rendered in brilliant widescreen by Twilight cinematographer Elliot Davis. Davis took footage from only 18 days of winter shooting and was able to render on screen the various colors and moods of an entire year of Michigan seasons. This is an achievement in itself, and the film realistically and beautifully depicts a year of the Young Mariner’s life from fall to winter, winter to spring, and finally into summer. With long stretches without any dialogue at all, the film is a primarily visual experience, and with patient editing, the meditative visuals showcase the day-to-day experience of the Young Mariner struggling to fix up the boat, and fix up himself, lapsing into illness and binges of heavy drinking, as he notably mixes whiskey with cold medicine against better advice. With so little dialogue, Lucas’ performance could have easily lapsed into ham-fisted facial over-expression, but Lucas is nevertheless able to turn in a subtle performance, and through his character we see the various positive forms grief can take: into empathy, as the Young Mariner assists a battered female cashier from the local grocery store find a place a hide and to heal in the battered boat; and into love, with a relationship developing between the Young Mariner and the mysterious Waitress. While Lucas is sturdy in this role, the most incredible performance is by the veteran Cromwell whose character, the Ancient Mariner, lost his wife to a stroke on a long sailing expedition. The Ancient Mariner is the Spirit Guide for the Young Mariner, and Cromwell encapsulates the stoic wisdom that only great loss can engender without ever being smug or condescending.

By not assigning the main characters with proper names (only peripheral characters are named), the story takes the form of an instructional fable that shows us the constructive ways we can deal with our own grief. Over the course of A Year in Mooring we watch the Young Mariner transform his self-destructive guilt into a new, more spiritual perspective on what Cromwell’s Ancient Mariner, in reference to the old French name for the Michigan town, calls Le Grande Traverse, or the journey of life. As the Young Mariner begins to take the process of fixing up his boat slowly, meditatively, a little statue of the Buddha appears prominently in various places, suggesting a spirituality beyond that of the Overculture, just as the film features a style beyond that of typical American fare. While A Year in Mooring is reminiscent of some recent “man-alone” American films, such as Into the Wild and 127 Hours, and the lonely drunken stumbling of the Young Mariner even brings to mind parts of There Will Be Blood, with its slow pace, sparse dialogue, and contemplative photography it’s more like the quiet Zen cinema of the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, or the painstaking spiritual fare of Frenchman Robert Bresson. Whatever its reference points, the film takes the viewer on the Grand Traverse, and when it’s all said and done, we feel better for having been on it, for having breathed with it, and we begin to realize what the seasons can do to a spirit in mooring.

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