Norte – A slow step towards public recognition

It looks as though Norte was good but not good enough for a prize at this year’s Cannes festival. A couple of people are surprised. Yet, knowing Lav Diaz, he most likely doesn’t care. He makes films not for awards, but for cinema. And this he did. I’m personally very happy that I can call him my ‘research subject’ 🙂

Although, I may, in fact, have to re-think this, because he crossed my plans. Norte seems to be different from his previous films I study for my research. His previous oeuvre led me to a unique approach to Slow Cinema. And now, he’s using colour in his film, and sweeping camera shots – this kind of goes against my plan. Thou shalt explain…

Anyway, colour or black-and-white, static or moving camera – I’m looking forward to seeing this latest masterpiece of his.

Let me give you a few extracts from reviews I’ve read since Thursday. These won’t contain spoilers, promised!

“Those who entered Diaz’s world swam somewhere else than the Riviera for those brief hours, and were rewarded with quite possibly the best film there.” (Daniel Kasman for MUBI)

“They took their seats, the lights went down, the movie came up, and I sat there. Two-hundred-fifty minutes later, the lights came up, I stood with tears in my eyes, and clapped as loudly as I ever have for any movie in my life. (Note: I’ve actually never clapped for a movie before.)” (Wesley Morris, Grantland)

“By comparison, the four-hour Norte is a miniature, but it’s also an accessible film, a superb piece of focused narrative that’s more immediately coherent than such digressive pieces as 2009’s Melancholia.” (Jonathan Romney, Screendaily)

In fact, it’s difficult to give you more than this because they all agree on the fact that Diaz’s film was magnificent. I’m glad that he had this experience, and I’m sure that Norte will be accepted at other festivals, too. If you want to read full reviews (which contain spoilers, beware!), you can find links in my Slow Tweets to your right.

As for the award, I’m a bit 50-50 about it. Of course, I would have liked to see him getting the award, or any award in the Un Certain Regard section. It may have been a bit too much all at once, though. I think the effect of his work for cinema will be more effective if he slowly creeps into people’s cinematic world and mind.

I want to end this brief entry with something Lav said in a recent interview with Keyframe. This says it all about Slow Cinema – why write a 80k thesis about it, if you can fit it all into a few sentences?

One of the greatest struggles in a human life is against time. We confine ourselves to some routines, we think it’s time—and it’s not, it’s just action. But if you think of time, it’s just about death and mortality and so are my films. I struggle with time but also respect space; they go together. For them to harmonize in my praxis I need to do long takes or one take. I’m trying to be truthful. I don’t want to manipulate time or space. I’m trying to subordinate the idea that [in cinema] we’re just following the characters. Look at the world, take your time! It’s all about seeing. Many young people don’t necessarily respond to that. ‘It doesn’t fit into my schedule.’ That’s a very important line nowadays.

Norte premieres at Cannes Festival

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, this entry will be no more than a summary of today’s news. For everyone else: this is what slowness is about (sometimes).

Lav Diaz’s new film Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan premiered at the Cannes Festival today at 11am. It’s nominated in the category Un Certain Regard. I know how excited everyone was, especially Hazel Orencio, one of the actresses. It was nice to follow them virtually on their first ever trip to Cannes.

Slowness on the red carpet is a rare image, and indeed, I have to admit that the Norte team looked like the most interesting of the ones I have seen throughout this festival.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the film was four hours and twenty minutes long. Quite a short film for Lav Diaz. But Diaz explained in an interview with Salon Indien (2012) that there is no time, in terms of time doesn’t matter. A five minute film can be as good as an eight hour epic, and I fully agree.

It looked very much as if Norte shook the audience. Jonathan Romney, who coined the term Slow Cinema in a film review in 2004, wrote on Twitter: “Lav Diaz’s NORTE, what a triumph. Raskolnikov in the Philippines, beautifully controlled storytelling with an apocalyptic final left-turn.” And Nick James (Sight&Sound), who actually isn’t very fond of slowness in film said: “The 4-hour Lav Diaz NORTE is worth every second. Finally something transcendent. Amazing.”

The team received a five-minute standing ovation, which, I guess, says a lot. I haven’t seen the film, but I know Diaz’s style. That he received standing ovations for it at the Cannes festival is a wonderful achievement. Apparently, there are distributors interested in Norte. I hope that he can strike a deal, so that we can finally access Diaz’s films (legally).

The next step on the Slow Ladder

A few weeks ago, I have posted an entry about the success of the local Slow Art Day here in Dundee. I still feel like going back to the McManus and take an even longer look at one of the paintings. It has drawn me in so much that I can’t let it go anymore. I learned a lot about looking slowly and giving your eyes time to wander.

In general, the day had a positive outcome. I’m very proud of being an official volunteering member of the Slow Art Day group from now on. I will be the host outreach in the UK and help them with research projects they are starting. This is exciting for me. The UK was home to quite a few participating museums this year, but there could be more, and more people could benefit from looking slowly at art. I will try my best to increase the number of museums and galleries taking part in next year’s event.

In other news: Lav Diaz is on his way to the Cannes festival. He and Hazel Orencio, the lead actress in Florentina Hubaldo, had a farewell dinner with friends. For me, it is an obscure thought…slowness on the red carpet. But I will get used to it! There are more details about Diaz’s new film Norte emerging, though only in French. The film is about a man who is wrongly convicted of murder and put into prison. He comes to find his prison life more bearable, but his life is changed by a mysterious event.

To me, this sounds like a must-see film by Diaz again. It is the longest film shown in the category Un Certain Regard this year at Cannes. Surprisingly, this film doesn’t seem to be in black-and-white. The two screenshots that are available are in colours. I’ve never seen a Diaz film in colour, so I’m keen on finding out if the feel is different, and if yes, how. The colour should reduce the degree of simplicity. Poverty may not be as clear as it is in black-and-white either. But this turn to colour makes it even more interesting to me. It’s new, I’m excited.

Norte will be screened on May, 23rd at 11am (local time). I’m waiting for the reviews and from news from both Lav and Hazel, and will post updates here.

Slow – The Film

It’s been quite a while now that I got totally excited about Bovines, a French (slow) film about cows, made by Emmanuel Gras. It sounds ridiculous, but the film was amazing. I’m still fascinated by the beauty in each frame. Slow looking is not just about art, it is about everything in our surrounding. I guess, cows are a good example for this. We take them so much for granted that we don’t perceive their beings anymore. The last time we did that properly was when we were little and still explored the world around us. We have stopped doing this. Now we wonder what could possibly be so interesting about cows that you need to make a film about them. Well, Bovines gives you the answer. I strongly recommend this film.

There is now a smaller version of slowness in (German) cinemas. I’m speaking of Slow, a film made by Sascha Seifert, which depicts quite fittingly the life of snails. When I saw the trailer, I loved it instantly. It looks like a peaceful slow film about life in nature; the embodiment of slowness, far far away from mechanical clocks which have caused so much trouble that we now have to step back and create events like Slow Art Day to remind us that we’re moving too fast. Anyway, the film will be out in Germany on May, 23rd this year. Unfortunately, there is no release date for the UK at the moment. It would be great to see this at a festival one day. I’d love to make this happen.

Cows, snails…who’s making a film about sloths? You can always be slower. (Perhaps this is my destiny. I shall think this through…)

Slow Cinema at Cannes 2013

Apichatpong’s victory over the recently more and more Americanised Cannes Festival happened before my time as a slow fanatic…

So I see yesterday’s news as a fantastic thing: Lav Diaz’s new film Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History) made it into the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s festival. Congratulations to Lav & team. What a wonderful achievement for them! It’s going to be his first trip to Cannes. With four hours and twenty minutes running time, I find this film to be quite short for his type of film-making, but it’s nevertheless quite a bite for a possibly untrained jury to watch. Apparently, the producer was very keen on submitting the film for the festival and good on him! I hope that Norte will also come to the UK at a later date. I have a feeling that it’s a good one. (Has there ever been a boring Lav Diaz film??)

Unfortunately, Tsai’s new film Diary of a Young Boy didn’t make it into the line-up this year, although there had been rumours it could be. It would have been nice, but, here again, I hope his film will get its release at a later date.

As I haven’t posted something fascinating lately, I leave you with a great interview of Lav Diaz, conducted at last year’s AV Festival. Research-wise, the project is moving forward, though I feel as if all my ideas for the thesis have been and still are being squeezed into abstracts and papers. It’s good. It helps me to develop ideas. But I can’t wait to sit down and expand on this writing. Before that, however, I’ll attend the Postgraduate Research Conference at Stirling University on 8th May, and the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network Conference in July in Norwich. Summer will be writing time for me. I plan to submit a decent draft of my first thesis chapter at the end of the summer. This should result in a few more blog entries 🙂

Post Tenebras Lux – Carlos Reygadas

Before you read this post, please be aware that it contains spoilers. If you intend to watch the film in future, I’d advise you not to read it. Or to forget about what you’ve read.

I want to jot down only a few impressions from Reygadas’ new film Post Tenebras Lux as reviewing the entire film would be utopian at the moment. It is a complex film. I’d say it is Reygadas’ most complex film. Controversial, as I read in some reviews. Though I do wonder where exactly the controversy comes in. True, the brutality of man exercised on his dog was a horrible thing to watch. But that’s as controversial as it got for me. If the bathouse orgy was controversial – well, I suggest you don’t attend a screening of an alternative film which is rated for people over the age of 18.

Anyway, I have written previously on the apparent aesthetic shifts in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films. His latest short Mekong Hotel didn’t have the same look nor the same feel compared to his other films with regards to the issue of what is termed Slow Cinema. It was different. This may be too fast a shot, but I wonder whether we witness a new trend in this field of cinema in general. The characteristics of Slow Cinema that scholars and film critics have come up with stem from films made predominantly before 2010, ergo in the first part of the 2000s.

Post Tenebras Lux is yet another example, which defies the usual, almost fixed elements of Slow Cinema. Reygadas’ has always been seen as part of the Slow Cinema family, and, indeed, his previous films were easy to group them under this umbrella. They were less painterly than, say, Diaz’s and Tarr’s film, but they were certainly slow, had similar themes, were set in similar regions (i.e. rural areas) and depicted characters in much the same light as other slow-film directors have done before.

His latest cinematic work is different, mainly because of its use of special effects, which has never been part of Slow Cinema (in the early 2000s). Everything had been natural, down-to-earth, realistic (although I am aware that the term ‘realistic’ is debatable). In his new film you encounter the devil, an animation, computer graphics, in short: a special effect.

You equally have blurred lenses, which has – to my knowledge – not been used before. And at the film’s end the guy to your right rips his head off his shoulders; a special effect. The film contains elements of the supernatural, of science-fiction, of animation, of artificiality. In itself this isn’t bad, and not the point of this blog post. However, I want to point to the changes in the films of who we have described as ‘slow-film directors’.

Are we witnessing a new development within Slow Cinema in this decade? Two films are following this new trend. Or better, they question our current understanding of Slow Cinema as it is. It also shows how malleable and flexible the phenomenon is.

The Effects of Music and Dialogue

Yesterday’s screening of Apichatpong’s Mekong Hotel in Glasgow made it obvious to me how problematic the term Slow Cinema is.

The name Apichatpong Weerasethakul appears almost everywhere you look for something written on Slow Cinema. His work is a trademark. Mekong Hotel, however, makes me wonder to what extent films are slow, and whether it wouldn’t be appropriate to narrow the term Slow Cinema to a more specific, cohesive and conclusive part of slow film (and I suggest here, for instance, the slow films that bear similarities to paintings).

Mekong Hotel is slow. Yet, compared to other films by Weerasethakul, and to other slow films in general, his latest short is fairly quick. The reason for this is his slightly different style.

Remember, remember – Michel Chion, and his vococentrism of film. Just like human beings, films are vococentric, that means their focus lies on speech as our ears react faster to external stimuli than our eyes do. I have argued that his point is a clue as to why slow films appear to be slow. They lack dialogue. Our ears are deprived of information, and have to pass on the command to our eyes. We need to read the film with our eyes, which is a much slower process.

Mekong Hotel features a lot of dialogue. There are lengthy passages, which feature two or three characters in conversation. In addition, the film contains a guitar tune which accompanies almost every scene. The ongoing tune in the background keeps feeding our ears with information. Our eyes don’t have to do much. Our ears do the job. I actually blocked my ears for a little while during the screening. The film appeared so much slower!

Both dialogue and music make films appear more time-based, more rhythmic. As soon as this is the case, the effect and perception of slowness is greatly reduced. My avenue towards (the Fine Art of) Slow Cinema as being similar to static arts in terms of their lack of kinetic objects, their framing, their frame composition, and their lack of dialogue and music, is going to address this problem in a bit more detail. But I would like to stress once again that the perception of slowness stems from more than only long-takes and the depiction of mundane every-day activities of characters. Hence the term needs adjustment. And Mekong Hotel serves as a great example for doing exactly this.

Diary of a Young Boy

This is the title of Tsai Ming-liang’s new film. There isn’t a lot of information out there. What I could find was that the film is in post-production, and that the distribution rights are held by Urban Distribution International. So, we will have a chance to see it eventually!

A short synopsis from their website:

“A father and his two young kids are looking for a Noah’s Ark to survive in a society that madly over-consumes.”

It looks intriguing to me. There is a (slow) critique of society included again. I’ll keep my eyes open for possible screenings!

Tsai Ming-Liang – Visage (2009)

Let us recall some of the characteristics that are usually associated with Slow Cinema; unknown actors / actresses, tendency to frame characters in medium or long shots, little dialogue, if any. Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rule, and Tsai Ming-liang’s Visage (2009, watch the trailer here) demonstrates that you can slightly alter these characteristics without compromising the actual nature of slow film.

As with every slow film, Visage is difficult to sum up. I could say, in brief, that it is about a Malay director shooting a film in France. It could even be an homage to Truffaut, whose films have greatly influenced Liang. But the real interest is not so much the story. The film’s strengths lie, as usual, in the cinematography, the banal, often ridiculous incidents, and in the scenes, which often cause a WTF in my head. Visage is by all means a typical Tsai Ming-liang film.

Yet, this films make me question if the characteristics we researchers have come up with, are necessary for a slow film. What’s different about Visage? As the name (Face) suggests the focus lies in faces, which are shown in close-up. It is rare that close-up shots are used in slow films (hence the idea of painting), but here it comes as natural as in any other film. Not surprisingly, it feels more intense, more intimate. We’re closer to the character and can decipher his or her facial expressions. I would call it a new dimension in the art of Slow Cinema.

Also, Liang makes use of famous French actors and personalities. Laetitia Casta plays the Star, Jean-Pierre Léaud the King (he played Antoine in The 400 Blows by Truffaut), Fanny Ardent plays both the producer and the Queen. And this is not the end of the list of French actors. All three, however, are ‘popular’ personalities, and yet, to my surprise, they did a wonderful job in this slow film.

True, they talk more than the Malaysian actors, hence the aspect of little dialogue is only partly valid here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nevertheless an almost silent film. But, proportionally, there’s more dialogue amongst the French actors than amongst the other half on set.

Despite diverting away from his usual concept, if only slightly, Liang, one of my favourites out there, demonstrates with Visage that it can be unhelpful to think too much in terms of definitions. There’s a lot more to the film, so updates might follow in the course of my research.