Ahh, what a lovely slow film after weeks of drought! I still have a long list of slow films, but I somehow lack the time to watch them all. A paradox, I know. Anyway, I have heard of Benedek Fliegauf before in the context of his film Just the Wind, which is, yes, on my list, but oh well. Fliegauf is a Hungarian director and is often compared to Béla Tarr. I can’t say anything about his other films, which I will watch sometime soon. But given the aesthetics of Milky Way he has little in common with Tarr, apart from the use of static extreme long takes.
If I was to summarise Milky Way in one sentence, then I would probably refer to Zhengfan Yang’s Distant, which I reviewed last year. It’s very similar, and particularly interesting for me as someone who loves photography. Milky Way is not one film. Rather, it is many films. Many self-contained short films. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was made by only one director, I would perhaps call it a slow omnibus. Just as Zhengfan focused on the distance between the camera and the character as well as between the character and the viewer, so does Fliegauf.
As is often the case in Slow Cinema, he uses long or extreme long shots that depict the action. It can be a rather frustrating business, but only because we are so trained to see everything clearly on the screen that it’s difficult to deal with something that challenges this very habit. Despite the frustration, I loved it. It reminded me of my earlier attempt at linking slow films with landscape painting. Not all shots in Milky Way are landscape based. Yet the way the environment is framed and the way the characters are positioned in relation to this environment resembles that of landscape painting. East Asian landscape painting, I should point out, as the position of Man in Western landscape is different, and not immediately evident in Slow Cinema.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is highly photographic. It is not only landscape painting that came to mind when I watched the film. It was also the aspect of still photography that caught my attention. Every frame is a superb and beautiful photograph. The motion that takes place in the frames is of little importance if you’re really keen on photography. Each frame looks very professional, and funnily enough, Fliegauf has no history in photography, nor in film. Apparently, he taught himself the art of filmmaking. This reminds me of myself, and my own view that you don’t have to have a degree in order to be good at something. This is particularly true when it comes to the arts. I learned to develop a photographic eye by picking up a camera, not by studying composition. The advantage, and you can see this clearly in Fliegauf’s film, is that the beauty comes naturally, the way it is meant to be. It is not constructed so that it looks nice. It looks nice just because it is natural.
And here we are again, Slow Cinema – both viewing and making – is based on experience, on feeling, on sensations. This is why it’s difficult to write about it, and I become more and more grateful for this blog, because at least I’m not forced to put something experiential into dry words, which can’t convey the message anyway. Fliegauf’s Milky Way is, for example, also hugely intriguing for its use of sound. The proximity of sound is stunning, and I often wondered about the source of sound, or whether the sound I heard actually fit the image. At other times I thought that the sound alone would be enough.
The visual could indeed only be a photograph and you would still get a sense of the film. Like a photo album with sound. I read on Wikipedia that someone called the film an “ambient movie”. I never thought about calling films ambient. I always connect the term to sound, but now I see the point. It is, if I briefly consider the slow films I’m aware of, a fitting term for Slow Cinema as a whole. Sound is so vital to slow films, and it is astonishing that there hasn’t been written more about it. In this way, I’m excited about the work of Philippa Lovatt, who focuses on sound. Last year, she has published an article on sound in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films and I hope that there will be more to come.
If you want to see Fliegauf’s Milky Way, it’s available to watch on YouTube. Give it a go! I would recommend headphones.