Slow and Steady

C.W. Winter and Anders Edström, The Anchorage, 2009, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 87 minutes. (Photos: Anders Edström)

FIFTY-SOMETHING ULLA (Ulla Edström) lives in an isolated cottage on the Stockholm archipelago, her life punctuated by routine, including the walk she takes every morning through a leaf-rustling woods to the sea where her day begins with a brief, nude swim. She keeps a diary, and through it we learn that she’s a widow; she talks to friends on the phone and fills the house with the constant report of news radio, but otherwise her loneliness is interrupted only by visits from daughter Elin (Elin Hamrén) and her boyfriend Marcus (Marcus Harrling).

This is the extremely skeletal plot of The Anchorage, the debut feature of directors C. W. Winter (American) and Anders Edström (Swedish, son of Ulla). Like several other recent titles on the more adventurous side of the art-house roster (e.g., Lake Tahoe, Liverpool, Birdsong [all 2008]), The Anchorage patiently observes the unfolding of events as they slowly cohere into a subtly discernible narrative. The stakes aren’t immediately evident. There are long, nearly dialogue-free shots of the film’s few characters engaging in the most humdrum of activities: rowing on the water, playing ping-pong, gutting fish, shopping. Certain events—such as the departure of Elin and Marcus—seem significant, but not necessarily all that much more than anything else. While one or two compositions stand out for their foreboding beauty—the faint light glimpsed from a deeply darkened windowsill, for instance—the film maintains a consistently muted tone, even when Ulla’s calm existence is eerily disrupted by the presence of a deer hunter literally lurking at the edges of the frame.

Films in the style of The Anchorage can easily evaporate into thin air, their focus on the rhythms of quotidian life an excuse for a lack of daring and substance. The Anchorage doesn’t simply avoid this trap: Its mysteries are uncommonly profound and deeply felt; its depiction of a woman entrenched in solitude is not just contemplative but unbearably tense. And Winter and Edström don’t simply evoke transience and fragility, dread and fortitude; they capture these invisible states through delicate yet haunting images that render them startlingly visible.

The Anchorage runs at Anthology Film Archives in New York September 17–23. For more details, click here.