Incongruous in her red raincoat and her hiking boots with their red laces among the browns and greens of nature, the grass and bushes, mosses and rocks of the island sanctuary where she is the only inhabitant, she goes about her daily routine, monitoring the growth of a clutch of rare flowers on the rocks above the shore, soaked and pounded by the waves below.
The wind blowing through the windows of the tower by the ruined chapel like the mysterious pipes of some ungodly organ, gulls wheel above in the blue sky, their commentary on the world below audible but incomprehensible, and in bed at night, reading by candlelight, her mind wanders through her memories and the deeper past of the land, tin mines and lives lost on the restless seas.
Written and directed by Bait’s Mark Jenkin, Enys Men, meaning Stone Island, is built around the landscape and history of his native Cornwall and the singular performance of Mary Woodvine as the unnamed observer of the flora of the island, the crop of seven flowers blooming under the sun and blowing in the wind, each blossom becoming tainted by a strange invading lichen which clings to all it touches, she the one constant like a stone which stands against the elements.
Shot on 16mm, the image is raw and unfiltered, the visible grain and blemishes as rough as the ragged coast while the soundtrack is filled with the white noise of the waves and the wind, a depiction of a strange place where any vestige of human habitation has melding into the land, crumbling and decaying, where any change is incremental over the centuries; ostensibly set in 1973, the days piling up one after the other, indistinguishable, Enys Men could be any time or forever, the post-synched sound adding to the sense of oddity and dislocation.
Her days built around the little rituals she has constructed, the women rejects deviation and the troubles it might bring to her simple life, Woodvine’s eyes capturing all she sees, her expressive face a beacon of fearful awareness that although she is all by herself she is never quite alone, sharing a space with the ghosts of the past, the milkmaids swaying to their song, the tin miners in their shadowed grotto, the preacher (An American Werewolf in London‘s John Woodvine, father of Mary) shouting his sermon into the night.
While Jenkin’s images suggest rather than represent ideas, roots can be traced and connections can be inferred, Enys Tregarthen a nineteenth century folklorist who noted flowers and birds in her diaries, John Samuel Enys a mining engineer whose employees were presumably the Enys men, but although the interpretation of Enys Men is subjective what cannot be denied is the abstract yet omnipresent menace of its harsh beauty which lingers in the mind.
Enys Men will be on general release from Friday 13th January