Enys Men Mark Jenkin (2022; UK;) Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 26th Jan 2023; ticket: £10.25
Mark Jenkin’s ‘Enys Men’ is a assemblage of images revolving around a group of plastic flowers stuck into the ground on a cliff top setting on a remote island off Cornwall. It is not clear whether Jenkin’s protagonist ‘The Volunteer’ in responding to some deep psychological need, has stuck them into the ground herself or whether Jenkin himself misguidedly believes his audience might take them as real. Either way ‘Enys Men’ is a film, that in substance and form amounts to little more than a series of laborious filmic constructs, in particular his use of intercut historical ‘portraits’ reminded me of the films of Huillet and Straub, but lacking their intellectual rigour.
Like Jenkin’s first film ‘Bait’, ‘Enys Men’ is shot on 16mm. This system as used to shoot ‘Bait’ worked well in incorporating the suggestion of ‘memory retained’ into the actual body and fabric of the medium. The 16mm stock was edited so that the release print included reel ends, film processing marks and grain working into the film’s ‘present’ the idea of the omnipresence of ‘times that had passed’. As shot by Jenkin there was no need in ‘Bait’ for the structure of the script to incorporate flashbacks or other symbolic devices to represent the temporal tensions implicit in the scenario. The concept of ‘time’ was endemic in the use made of the characteristics of the film stock. “Enys Men’ was also shot on 16mm. In similar manner to ‘Bait’ it incorporates into its imagery similar features of the stock.
But can Jenkin pull off the same effect twice? My feeling is that in ‘Enys Men’ the use of 16mm yields greatly diminished returns to its artistic investment.
Besides the obvious problems involved in repeating the same film stock contrivances – repetition of same idea spectrum – there is the issue of the appropriateness of this stock to the subject of ‘Enyse Men’. In ‘Bait’ the temporal aspect implicit in the way Jenkin used his 16mm film worked well as an expressive device underscoring the tensions in the relationship between the two brothers, with their contrasting attitude to change. In ‘Enys Men’ the central relation explored by Jenkin is between the volunteer and her own memory and its fusing with a collective memory. But in addition to the temporal aspect suggested by the 16mm film, we also have a script structure that uses flashbacks and other types of symbolic shots (tin miners; fishers; children in traditional Cornish costume a la Straudb and Huillet) to incorporate, to ‘block’, other ‘time’ into the scenario. In this respect the use of 16mm stock contributes little to the film which is sciptively structured so as to have ‘time’ itself as central to its concern. Jenkin’s manner of using his stock comes across as a gimmick – or perhaps the conceit of stamping his signature onto his material.
Looking at some of the ideas Jenkin works into the scenario of ‘Enys Men’, they look like a mish-mash of ‘borrowings’ from other directors, ideas to which he fails to make any claim on ownership. Jenkin exploits the repeated imagary of the Volunteer’s daily round: her getting up, leaving, visiting the cliff top plastic flowers, dropping a stone into an old mine shaft, keeping a daily log of her observations. A routine that in form closely resembles Ackerman’s compulsive subject: Jeanne Dielman. The Volunteer’s two way radio communication, her ‘squawk box’ looks pulled straight out of Cocteau’s ‘Orphée’ and the sudden appearance and immediate disappearance of images from the past strongly recalls Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Back’. Second hand as it is, and lacking Roeg’s flair, the effect of Jenkin’s use of this device is flat. It’s part and parcel of many contemporary films to deploy ‘landscape’ ‘seascape’ ‘skyscape’ shots to imply some sort of psychological resonance with theme. But these sort of shots, spliced into an edit have simply become visual tropes, stand-by clichés exploited to bulk out impoverished scenarios with ‘meaning’. Occasionally as in Strickland’s ‘Katalin Varga’, there’s some psychic return; but Jenkin’s repetitious use of Cornwall’s sea girt rocks as suggestive of unchanging time simply overstates and overdetermines the obvious.
As the end credits rolled I noticed that Jenkin occupied all the key creative roles. He is: director – writer – DP – editor – composer – a man of many talents. Perhaps. In relation to ‘Enys Men’ the cinematography is second rate with a horrible over use of zoom shots, often accompanied by Jenkin’s music underscoring the emotional meaning of the zoom with a predictable crescendo. The editing seems uninspired as does such scripted dialogue, such as there is. Looking at Jenkin’s direction of his actors, for the most part they seem wooden as if frightened to do anything off their own bat and reduced to waiting on ‘the director’s instructions’. My feeling is that on this evidence Jenkin is a control freak, who needs to understand that film making is a collective enterprise.