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).

From Painting to Drawing?

I have to admit that it sounds odd to bring drawing into my research. I have long argued that painting is the most appropriate art form some slow films can be compared to. Things have developed since I posted my first entry on this blog, and while I am still convinced that painting will be the focus in my thesis, there is something else that has caught my attention.

Jianping Gao (1996) argues that ‘painting’ means ‘to apply colour’. At least, this is our Western understanding of it. Indeed, my Oxford dictionary tells me that “paint” (noun) is a “substance applied to a surface in liquid form to give it colour“. Gao explained that there has traditionally been a difference in the west between paintings and drawings, the former incorporating colours, the latter being predominantly monochrome. This is, in fact, a fine line these days as art in general lives of mixing and merging concepts. However, do think for yourself: what do you associate with ‘painting’?

Perhaps the colourful works by Impressionists come to your mind. Or those of the Romanticists. No matter what period we’re looking at, I can almost guarantee you that you have ‘colour’ in your head. Maybe we could argue that Western painters wanted to create an image of the world, which comes as close as possible to reality. True, especially the Impressionists applied colours according to their own interpretation of the world. However, colour in general heightened the realistic effect of the paintings. The world was colourful, so the painters depicted it accordingly.

I’ve repeatedly mentioned analogous characteristics of Lav Diaz’s films and painting. The one thing I have never thought about was the absence of colour. Not in this context anyway. I did analyse the black-and-white system used in his films, but I never thought about whether it would make sense to apply the concept of ‘painting’ (applying colour) to his films. I’m not saying that his films are drawings, though if we looked at the definitions mentioned above, it would be true.

The main concern is that I can obviously not go ahead arguing easily for painting. While Diaz’s films show many similarities, and while all the points in my research make perfect sense, the term ‘painting’ can be controversial if not defined properly. Lesson learned.

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…)

Looking slowly

I hope that you slowed down a bit yesterday, on the International Slow Art Day. It was a lovely thing to do, and I can’t wait for next year. I have to admit, though, that I toy with the idea of setting up a personal Slow Art Day in about six months – a whole year without slow looking is too long!photo2

We were eight people at the McManus in Dundee. Slightly less than I had expected, but it was an ideal number for the discussion of our experience that followed the art viewing. The artworks I have chosen were “Pictish Artefact No 3”, “Island“, “Fairy Tale or Summer Incident“, “Moorland and Mist“, “Love’s Young Dream” and “Demon Mask”. I chose the different types of “art” deliberately. Especially the demon mask is an artefact you would normally only pass by. I had done so several times before, and I can say for sure that it was worth looking at it in more detail.

Even though I study slow films, and have been arguing for a while now that they appear to be static, I had troubles at the beginning to stay with an actual static image for five minutes or more. For me, it was an entirely different experience. Similar to Slow Cinema, you have to learn how to look slowly at static art. No painting will attract you in the same way another one does, or even appall you. It is thus important that you find your way into it and learn how to look at it. From an angle, from a distance, standing up, sitting down – if you do this, you will realise (slowly) that the painting in front of you changes whenever you change. I had a particularly striking example with “Moorland and Mist”. The sun that came through the rooftop windows had a considerable effect on how I experienced the viewing. Once the sun disappeared behind clouds, the painting evoked a different atmosphere.

photoUnfortunately, I could find only a tiny image of “Island” for this blog. This was my favourite, and that of the group. I suppose it is the ideal painting for a day like this. It seems like a minimalist painting at first sight. If this was a film frame, I would say that it was empty and didn’t contain a lot of information. But because you weren’t distracted by dozens of objects and colours, it was a perfect painting to stay with for a long time. I could have stayed for an hour.

It was by all means a valuable experience, and I’m glad that I signed up to be a host. I merely wanted to find out what this was all about and how it feels to look slowly at art. Thanks to all attendees!

I’m keen on hosting the event at Stirling University next year and will post a registration link here once the event page is up and running.

To return to my actual topic, Slow Cinema, Catherine Grant from Film Studies for Free compiled a good list of writings on Slow Cinema. Worth checking this!

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 🙂

Reminder: Slow Art Day

It is so close. Twelve days, and we will celebrate the art of looking slowly. At art. Hence again the reminder that registration for the event in Dundee (Scotland) at the local McManus Gallery and Museum is still open.

The event takes place on 27 April 2013 from 11am to 2pm. After an initial meeting, participants will enter the gallery and look at at least five artworks for at least ten minutes. A list with the names and locations of the artworks will be circulated via email closer to the day.

Once we have spent roughly an hour immersed in art, we will meet up for a pub lunch and discuss our (slow) experience. You don’t need any knowledge of art in order to participate. Only patience and commitment.

It is important to me that you register on my eventbrite page as this will facilitate emailing you the list of artworks and further information about the event. Thank you!

Hope to see you on 27 April 2013 here in Dundee!

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.

A Gap Between Generations

I went to the PG Study Day at St. Andrews University yesterday and gave a paper, which aimed to reason why slow films cannot evoke justified responses in a movie theatre audience. Instead they should be screened at alternative venues, such as galleries. I have discussed this issue elsewhere on this blog.

In the Q&A session afterwards, a point was raised, which is so simple that it is often overlooked. It is, in fact, another straight-forward reason why the term ‘Slow Cinema’ is incorrect. Ask the generation of people who grew up with films by Tarkovsky, Janscó, and similar directors. They would tell you that the term SC is ridiculous. No one has ever termed these films as slow in the past.

I very much agree to this. There are generations as well as areas in the world where the term SC is a dead end. It is a Western concept and yet another framework we use in order to make sense of what we see. Strangely enough, we forget what the directors say, and no one has ever spoken of Tarkovsky’s slowness at the time. It had never been highlighted as being exceptional. If you search now for writings on Tarkovsky, you can suddenly find it everywhere. We have a new framework called SC, so we can go back and analyse all films through this lens – that is what film scholars do (and they shouldn’t!).

Technically, there are no differences between the late Angelopoulos and today’s slow films. Nor are there, pace-wise, major differences between Béla Tarr and Miklós Janscó. It is not the films that have changed. It is us.

In his fabulous book Art and Time, Philip Rawson argued (correctly, I find) that an artist’s perception of time influences his artwork. We can take this a little further. I argue that one’s perception of time influences one’s reception of an artwork. And here we are again, with the old discussion of digital media increasing the pace of our life. I don’t mention this to blame the new media. Not at all. Rather, I try to illustrate what exactly we need to consider when talking about slow films, and it might not be the films at all that should be in the centre of attraction. Perhaps, we should put a close-up on the viewer and his pace in life, not that of the film.

Happy Easter – Thank you!

As Easter is approaching fast, and the first six months of my research are coming to an end, it is a good time to thank everyone reading this blog regularly. In a few days, this blog will reach 1,000 views from 36 different countries. I’m specially glad about the latter fact. It means that my blurb reaches a global audience. This is what I had intended.

The usual experience of starting off with a research topic just to see it transform into something else is already very apparent after a few months. Slow Cinema is, and will always be, my topic. Yet, my approach has changed – let me think – twice already. Perhaps three times? When I flicked through my notebook today I was surprised that (and how!) I ended up where I am now. I do believe that I’m done walking in the dark. Work on the core chapters will now begin. A few elements from this blog will be included in future. The main aspect of my thesis, though, will appear online in only a few months time as I must not be too generous giving away my thoughts all at once 🙂

I have not yet mentioned that there will be a Slow Cinema anthology coming out in the near future. The editors are Nuno Barradas Jorge and Tiago de Luca. The book is part of the Traditions in World Cinema series, solicited by Edinburgh University Press. I will learn in April whether or not I will be part of this new publication. I’ve submitted a proposal for a chapter on Lav Diaz, so fingers crossed! This chapter would contain the ‘main aspect’ I’m not giving away yet. Can you hear the book; “buy me, buy me”?

I wish you all some peaceful and moreover slow days.

A happy Easter from me. Or, as my sister said: Merry Easter – for everyone who sees the snow piling up outside.