A slow return

I’m sipping on a slowly brewed coffee. At my favourite local café. It’s been three months that I haven’t had a chance to do this. When the confinement started (and even before) that I stopped going in order to stay safe. The local café is my writing spot. This is where I write everything for my blog. This is where I work on my books or other projects. It’s a slow place for slow writing. Today, some normality has returned but writing won’t be the same for quite some time.

As you can gather from the above, this is not going to be a post about a film I have seen or a book I have read. I want to return to some of the thoughts I had during the confinement, which do revolve around slow film. At least in part.

Because it wasn’t easy to write.

Because it wasn’t easy to focus on film.

Because I was even at a point of wanting to stop writing about Slow Cinema altogether.

Why?

When I finished my PhD, I wrote about why Slow Cinema felt so attractive at the time. Despite their low-key, at times even shocking and almost traumatising narratives (I’m thinking in particular of Lav Diaz’s films), it became a sort of catalyst for healing. I felt the PhD to be fruitful, if painful, but I ended up stronger. The healing continued over the years. I mentioned several times, I believe, that Slow Cinema cannot be watched by everyone, at all times, whenever it’s on, say, at the cinema. This is not how it works, at least this is what I believe. One needs to be open to it, spiritually. There are days when even I, after so many years of writing about Slow Cinema, cannot stand certain slow films. There is no particular type, no particular director I cannot stand on those days. One day, I hate Lisandro Alonso’s Los Muertos, the next I find it deeply moving. Slow films are like music. There are days for everything. If you listen to classic today, it might well be techno tomorrow. Of course, this is exaggerated, but it shows exactly what I want to bring across.

During the confinement, I wasn’t into watching slow films. This probably happened to a lot of other people who suddenly didn’t like what they had always liked before. What struck me was not the fact that I was overwhelmed with everything else that happened. It was more that I wasn’t receptive to Slow Cinema at all. My soul wasn’t open to receive the images, to receive the messages the films sent. Slow films are never what they seem on the surface. There is so much to discover if you are ready for it. I wrote earlier about how slow films offer a vertical film experience, which means that it is not about pushing the narrative forward, but about going deep and therefore creating a specific experience which only slow films can give you. In some ways, Slow Cinema could be described as escapist, a term which usually only applies to Hollywood blockbusters or popular cinema in general. But in a world where everything happens only on the surface and where we have lost the ability to experience, to feel, to use our senses, Slow Cinema is an escapist medium to remind us that we are feeling, loving, suffering, hating, or happy humans after all.

But then, this global pandemic struck. Over the course of several months, we had nothing but a frightening experience. If we have become robots merely doing our routine day-to-day activities, taking everything for granted, then this pandemic was a wake-up call about who we have become, what we got ourselves into, and everything that we have already lost because of the very development that we pushed forwards in order to “improve” our lives. Truth is, our life has become poorer, because we have lost a lot of what makes us human. All of a sudden, there was a reminder. All of a sudden, we became human again. We became vulnerable. Life came to a halt. I guess that a lot of you sat at home for many weeks, like me. At some point, almost half the world’s population was confined at home. It was as if someone had pushed the stop button.

The robots we have turned into became human again, were forced to become human again. And I began to realise what Slow Cinema really does. I began to see why it is so important in ordinary (non-pandemic) times and why it has its raison d’être. I remember that, when I just started getting interested in Slow Cinema, there had been a lot of talk about it’s being a rejection of the speed in modern, Western society. Indeed, Slow Cinema is, as such, a Western thing. It’s a style that is used around the globe, but the actual discussion about it and the search for the best term happens exclusively in the West. This in itself, I believe, has led to the belief that Slow Cinema was a rejection of the acceleration of Western societies. This has never been true. There is something else at play here, something that is global, rather than Western.

Perhaps we should stop considering Slow Cinema. It happens too often that we define something as a rejection of, rather than as a portrait of. There is an inherent desire to describe something as a rejection of something else. With this, we divide the world into tiny fragments, all of which is part of what Slow Cinema is about. The world has become too fragmented and less human. Slow films show what we have lost. They’re not a rejection, but a reminder. And perhaps this is the reason why one can feel the films more than any other from any other genre, or movement, or whatever you might want to call it, if only one is spiritually open. And perhaps this is the reason why I couldn’t enjoy watching slow films during the confinement. The world became surreal, there is no doubt about it. But it also became, from one day to the next, human.

Being a human is painful, because you make yourself vulnerable to emotions. This isn’t a bad thing, but nowadays we consider it to be this way. If I’m already regaining what makes me human, do I need a cinematic reminder? Do I need to make myself available for a psychological exploration of what it means to be me while this is happening right now, right at this very moment, in front of my eyes? Perhaps, it’s not so much about necessity. It is about the availability, as I said above. It’s difficult to be available for the films, mentally, spiritually.

That said, there has been talk of the end of Slow Cinema. For those who consider slow films to be a rejection of our accelerated lives, the end looks clear: once we have slowed down, once we have learned to take a step back, Slow Cinema’s raison d’être disappears. But this is far from reasonable. I believe that, for as long as we follow our lives as robots, as outcasts, as people in solitude, stirring up hatred against “the other”, fighting “the other” – as long as we forget that we are all human, meaning that we are all the same (because human), there will be Slow Cinema.

I have a feeling there it won’t die anytime soon…

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4 Comments

Did you see other genres? If yes, then what? I ask because this connects with me, but I have been quite incapable of watching not just slow cinema but cinema.

Nadin Mai

Same here actually. I couldn’t connect to anything properly. I couldn’t connect to books either. It felt like I blocked out all culture even though it was the only thing we had left.

Samuel Anugrah Andre

i’m watching less movies now after the pandemic struck. right now i often just watch documentary. I’m meaning to rewatch Tarkovsky but the feeling of distress around the world overwhelms me so much I can’t bear to watch Slow Cinema or Cinema at all. but the other day i did watched Melancholia and Mulholland Drive. it’s just that it’s so much harder now to pick movies to watch right now by myself. i usually just tag along if my brother watches something. do you experience the same things?

Nadin Mai

Yes, it is strange and alienating, I have to say. There were so many free films on offer during the confinement, but I couldn’t get myself to watch them. As you said, the distress in the world right now is overwhelming and I know that the films I usually like show this distress on screen. I wonder when the real taste and hunger for films will return…

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