I don’t want to sleep alone – Tsai Ming-liang (2006)

I discovered Tsai Ming-liang’s films early on in my research into Slow Cinema, or even well before I started my PhD. The director from Taiwan could, in fact, be the second slow-film director I have come across, and I don’t want to sleep alone (2006) was my very first Tsai film. It was great to return to the film last night. I was not only reminded of the qualities of Tsai as a filmmaker and observer of society. I felt as tough I was going back in time, doing the first baby steps in discovering aspects of Slow Cinema that would become so vital for my later work. In everything I have said and written so far, I have always considered Tsai to be an exceptional director. I’m not using the word “exceptional” only in terms of quality, albeit it certainly applies to him. There is no doubt about it. But what I actually think of is Tsai’s particular aesthetic, primarily his use of architecture in conveying a sense of alienation, isolation, solitude, the sense of being outside, excluded, different.

I don’t want to sleep alone is very strong on this specific element. The story is, as in most slow films, comparatively easy to summarise. The film tells two parallel stories. One of them concerns a young man paralysed from the neck down. He’s tied to bed and is looked after by a young woman, who lives in a claustrophobic, cramped mezzanine above a woman’s flat. The woman’s relationship to the paralysed man is never clearly established. I’m not entirely sure who she is. She could be his mother, perhaps? It matters little. Towards the end of the film, an estate agent leads people through the flat where the young man lays in his bed. It is a bizarre situation. The cruelty is rubbed into our face. I felt helpless as a viewer.  It’s an uncomfortable situation. The young man is exposed to the views of total strangers. The aim is to sell the house, and in the off we hear an argument about this: “You only think of selling the house. Where will your brother live then? Will your wife look after him?” The scene ends with the maid being slapped in the face by the woman under whose roof she lives. What has just happened?

The question isn’t that unusual for a Tsai film. The reason for this is that he makes extensive use of off-screen sound and dialogue, as well as a particular “architectural” aesthetic. I believe that Tsai’s films are often more about what isn’t there than about what we see clearly. But compared to other directors, Tsai doesn’t simply put focus on the off. He uses walls, doors, and hallways instead in order to represent a border, a sort of frontier between the present and the absent, the places of here and there, the places of where I am and where I want to be. Tsai’s frame architecture is a maze which we have to navigate. Architecture, in whatever way it is used, is an expression of the characters’ minds. Béla Tarr as well as Lav Diaz use landscapes in order to represent their characters’ psychology. For Tsai, it is primarily the particular characteristic of architecture that becomes the main character in all of his later films. Walls, streets, staircases – they all speak volumes.

What struck me most was the way in which Tsai filmed walls. Almost all of them run diagonally through the frame. No one stands straight in front of a wall. There is no frontal shot of any wall at all. Walls run through most of the film’s frames, but they only do so diagonally. This suggests the opposite of “a light at the end of the tunnel”. The walls close off the frames. It suggests increased imprisonment, or perhaps rather a continuation of imprisonment, the continuation of isolation. In almost all scenes in which Tsai lets walls run diagonally, there is no sense of escape for the characters. It feels as though the walls close in more and more, the further they walk towards the horizon. This is a strong statement, especially in a film such as I don’t want to sleep alone, in which many of the characters are migrant workers, some of them from Bangladesh, who try to make a living, but who, we know, will never escape their precarious situation. They are as confined to their situation, as is the paralysed man in his bed, exposed to others, to external circumstances (such as the sale of a house).

But it wouldn’t be a Tsai Ming-liang film without intimate human connections that appear so bizarre that it is almost funny. This is something Tsai shares with Albert Serra; an underlying sense of humour, a dark humour, a dry humour that might not be for everyone, but that can almost be considered the core of their work. Neither director is making straightforward comedies. And yet, both include in their films scenes that lighten the mood a bit, that allows the viewer a bit of relief from the depressive world the directors show, albeit this is more true of Tsai than of Serra. In any case, what matters here is Tsai’s focus on human connections, on the intimacy (or not) between them and what our world, our society does to us. It seems as though human connections will always be there, regardless of external circumstances. And Tsai not only shows those connections on screen, such as when the character of Lee Kang-sheng masturbates a woman in a dark backstreet, just behind a small restaurant at the corner where she is working.

Connection, human or not, is, just like architecture, a core element in I don’t want to sleep alone. The title itself suggests as much. Loneliness in a busy city which never sleeps. Alienation juxtaposed with an eternal longing for a feeling of intimacy, for warmth. That is the cinema of Tsai Ming-liang. But compared with his later films, which tend to get bleaker and bleaker, and which he empties more and more of human intimacy, there is something of us as loving human beings left. This, of course, is established on a visual level. The use of sound is equally important, however. It starts right at the beginning. While we see the opening credits, we hear German classical music. It appears to be non-diegtic music, music that does not stem from the actual film world but which has been added in post-production. But a cut makes clear that the music is, in fact, diegetic. It comes from a radio that stands on the nightstand next to the bed of the paralysed man. Tsai uses this strategy several times in the film. Music bridges two scenes. It connects them, brings them together, something that the film characters long for, but which only really seems to happen on an auditory level.

Rupture is more present in Sleep than smooth connections. I remember an almost literal jump cut at the beginning of the film from the paralysed man’s room to a scene set in busy streets, showing two characters waiting for take-away food. The rupture, the sudden change in sound, shifting from quietude to sensory overstimulation, made me jump. It’s an extreme change on a visual and on an aural level, which was disorienting. I can imagine that this is what it was like for the migrant workers, depicted in Tsai’s film, when they arrived in the big, unknown city. Although set and filmed in Malaysia, Sleep tells a universal story, which, in fact, a lot of slow films do. But Tsai stands out with his particular aesthetics that make his films as recognisable as any Tarr or Diaz film. Having rewatched the film after seven years, I can say that it wasn’t surprising that I got hooked on the director’s work. He’s just damn good. His films are touching, very expressive, deep and heartfelt. Sleep is also a good entry to Tsai’s work in general, if you’d like to discover it. The advantage is that most of his films are available on DVD. Time for you to check Google!

Year 2017 in review

I’m not someone who likes lists, all sorts of The best films…The worst films… etc I never saw a point of social media getting obsessed with someone’s subjective opinion, with someone they have never even met or heard of rating a particular film at the top of their list. I have been asked whether I could put a list of my top slow films together, but I will do it differently here.

First of all, I’d like to thank the over 52,000 people who have dropped by this year. Of those, over 24,000 were unique visitors, new people who have discovered The Art(s) of Slow Cinema. The blog is now five years old. I changed servers last year, so I no longer have statistics for every year. But I think that this year has been the strongest in the blog’s history and I reckon around 200,000 to 250,000 people have so far viewed the blog since October 2012. These are abstract numbers, they quantify what’s going on on the blog. To me, those numbers show the growing interest in Slow Cinema / Contemplative Cinema. It’s not my work the people come here for. I know maybe 0,5% of those who drop by. It’s their interest in this type of film that brings them to The Art(s) of Slow Cinema, away from standard writing, from standard analysis. Those people want to discover what’s beyond the already-written, the already-said, and that makes me very happy. I will keep going for as long as I can, and you can help me with that by supporting the blog on Patreon.

2017 has been a year in which I did not discover single films as such, but rather almost entire oeuvres. I looked through my posts and noticed that, unconsciously, I returned time and again to the same directors; Wang Bing and Chantal Akerman. That was completely accidental. I usually try to vary my writing, but those two directors demanded more attention from me. I watched 4 films by Wang Bing alone; 15 hours of material that really struck me. I started of with West of the Tracks, Wang Bing’s nine-hour long documentary about the collapse of the Tie Xi Qu industrial complex. It was my first long film by the Chinese director, and the more films I watched by him the more I became fascinated by how much you can do with so very little. For those who know Wang Bing, it is a well-known fact that he often works clandestinely, with a small handheld camera and no real crew. He simply records what he sees. West of the Tracks is a masterpiece that was for me this year the perfect introduction to Wang Bing’s work. I had seen one or two of his works before, but that particular film had the effect that I had missed until then: the desire to see more. And so I did; Bitter Money, a superb film about young migrant workers trying to earn a living in clothes factories; Three Sisters, a look at the life of three sisters, aged 10, 6 and 4, who live alone in the mountains as their father is a migrant worker in a city nearby; and Mrs Fang, a film that was my personal discovery of the year. If someone really forced me to name a Film of the Year, it would be Mrs Fang. My aim for next year is to see and review Crude Oil and Till Madness Do Us Part. That would complete my journey through the lengthy works of Wang Bing, and I really cannot wait to see more films in future (although they do take up a lot of time!!).

The second director who stayed with me throughout the year was Chantal Akerman. It is perhaps the coincidence of my embarking on a journey through my family history during the war that brought me closer to the films of Akerman, films that are full of history, memory, and trauma. Of course, there are films in which those themes are not as present. But the two films I did see this year (I should have seen more!) had those very much at their centre; No Home MovieAkerman’s last film, and News from Home, albeit the former is much more explicit on this and, perhaps with Là-bas, the most explicit film about the family’s past. News from Home is, now that I think about the two films in retrospect, a great companion piece to No Home Movie, a sort of mirror image. Akerman left Belgium to live and work in the US. The film shows us images of the United States in the 1970s. We never see Akerman, but we do hear her reading letters she had received from her mother. There was anxiety in the words of Akerman’s mother; anxiety about whether her daughter could make it, about whether money she had sent had arrived, about not hearing from her daughter for a long time. There was a distance that could only be bridged by letters. Then there is this moving scene in No Home Movie, with Akerman filming a Skype call she had with her mother: “I want to show that there is no distance anymore.” Akerman’s portrait of her increasingly frail mother is superb and, in some ways, went well with Wang Bing’s Mrs Fang.

Wang Bing and Chantal Akerman hardly make for cheery films. And so my counterpart to all of this was the Living trilogy by Swedish director Roy Andersson, comprised of Songs from the Second Floor (2000), You, the Living (2007), and A pigeon sat on a branch reflecting on existence (2014). With seven years in between each of the films, Andersson took his time to craft a superb trilogy on the human condition, on our mundane lives, our mundane struggles, and yes, also about our WTF actions, actions that make you go “yes, we do this but why the heck are we doing this in the first place?” The Living trilogy is one of the few slow films (or slow film compilation) that come with a lot of humour, even though it’s dark humour. It’s not that often that we find cheery slow films. It’s usually Albert Serra who makes up for the lack of humour in Slow Cinema. This year, I learned that Roy Andersson joins the rank of slow clowns, and I still have all his short films to watch! Very much looking forward to seeing more by Andersson in the next year.

Then there was the marvellous Five by Abbas Kiarostami, which I finally had the chance to watch, and it was one of those experiences that are difficult to forget. It’s primarily the last sequence that still stays with me, the long take of a lake at night, the moon light reflecting on the surface until dark clouds cover it and a storm arrives. An absolutely superb observation of a perfectly natural phenomenon, but filmed in a rather obscure way so that, for a long time, one wonders what’s happening. Outside my director studies this year, Five was the single most interesting film I have seen in 2017.

Overall, 2017 was a good year for slow films…at least on my blog. I have also read quite a bit. There was this great book about contemporary art and time, for example. And, of course, the most wonderful Art and Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. I already have three books in store for next year, so there will be more to come in 2018. More books, more Wang Bing and who else? We will see that soon!

I wish all of my readers a peaceful end of the year, a Happy New Year in advance, and you’ll hear from me again very soon!!

Sixty Spanish Cigarettes – Mark John Ostrowski (2015, repost)

!!! This film is now available on tao films !!!

There is something sublimely beautiful about Mark John Ostrowski’s film Sixty Spanish Cigarettes (2015). Fifteen minutes into the film, an extreme long shot captures the sea and coast in the background. From the right hand side of the frame, a small boat comes into view. Ostrowski’s camera stays with the boat and follows it. Even in this extreme long-shot, we can see how the boat is moved by the wind and the waves. The sun is shining from behind a few clouds, it seems. The image is not in colour, even though you would perhaps think that. Coastal images in colour are always superb.

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But no. Ostrowski works against our expectations. He frustrates us. Scenes of blissful contemplation are interrupted by hard cuts to a black screen. Those contemplative scenes of land- and seascapes, for instance, feel like a carrot Ostrowski is hanging in front of our eyes. But he takes that carrot away as soon as we have almost reached a state of contemplation. We cannot contemplate everything at once. We have to give it time. We have to be patient in order to reach this desired state. Ostrowski works well in alternating beautifully slow shots with a black screen, the latter making us hyper-aware of where we are.

Paradoxically, Sixty Spanish Cigarettes is about movement, and yet it gives us no feeling of speed at all. We see the protagonist walking through several different (beautiful) landscapes, which reminded me strongly of those used in Albert Serra’s Birdsong (2008). The clouds are brushing slowly over the hills, while the man is often dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape. He is alone, alone on his way to an unknown location. At times, he stops to light a cigarette. At other times, he simply rests. It is this solitude which gives us a feeling of slowness, a sense of pause. The repeated scenes of a man’s walking through an empty landscape brought a wonderful book back into my head; The Philosophy of Walking. If you haven’t read it, please do get yourself a copy.

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Ostrowski’s film shows the director’s superb photographic eye. Many of his shots are beautifully composed. They could easily be photos in an album, or large prints in a gallery. To me, the visual beauty of the film was also its strongest asset; the viewer in awe of nature, in awe of simple but expressive architecture. Ostrowski’s long-takes of those “photos” helped me to pause, to be in the present but also to wonder what the protagonist was really up to. I’m not entirely sure whether this is ever fully revealed in the film, but it is of little interest in any case. Sixty Spanish Cigarettes is more of an atmospheric film than about a set narrative persistently progressing within the film’s 60 minutes running time. It reminded me of Martin Lefebvre’s modes of viewing; the narrative mode and the spectacular mode. Many slow films, which most certainly includes Ostrowski’s film, operate very much in the spectacular mode, even though there is a narrative mode in all. But the narrative mode is suppressed in many instances to give way to contemplation.

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I believe that the film could have been a tick shorter in order to make full use of its shots. I’m not entirely sure when this shot appears, perhaps after around 45 to 50min. There is a beautiful extreme long shot of a landscape at the coast, with the protagonist sitting on a rock or something similar. He has his back turned to us and is looking at the scenery, like us. I expected the film to cut there. It would have been the most fitting and most suitable ending for the film, but unfortunately Ostrowski did not cut there and kept going instead. The final images, to me,weakened the film slightly because they were not entirely necessary.

Nevertheless, with Sixty Spanish Cigarettes, Ostrowski has created a beautiful piece of Slow Cinema, which, regardless of whether or not he continues this slow journey, adds him to my list of directors to look out for in future. If the film runs at a festival near you, I highly recommend watching it!

The Multisensory Film Experience

If there is one thing that is visible in my research of the last three to four years, then it is my interest in why certain films attract me more than others. I’m fascinated by film experience, a fascination which started with Slow Cinema and then shifted to slow trauma cinema (specifically the cinema of Lav Diaz). Why did I get so hooked on Slow Cinema? In a previous post, I wrote about my experience with post-trauma and how Slow Cinema helped me to deal with anxiety and sensory overstimulation. For me, slow films were therapeutic. At the same time, I was reading an eye-opening book called Somatic Cinema: The relationship between body and screen – a Jungian perspective by Luke Hockley. I discovered “the three meanings” of a film, the third (speaking to something in the unconscious, unknown to us) being the reason why I have one film in particular which I cannot watch to the end. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a relation between the film and my unconscious.

Now, this reading and this experience showed to me that film is not just an audio-visual product. I could already feel this when I investigated the ways in which Lav Diaz used specific aesthetics in order to transmit a sensation of post-trauma to the viewer. Post-trauma is more than just audio-visual. It goes deep under your skin, so if a film wants to evoke this, it has to go deep under your skin too. In effect, film being a multisensory experience is a no-brainer. I believe people are aware that it’s not just about images and sound. However, this is what scholars focus on, even more so on image than on sound. Film critics follow a similar line. There is little talk about the experience of a film, regardless of where you look. Especially in scholarship, experience is a sort of plague which you should try to avoid. It is subjective and mostly individual, therefore you cannot prove anything or write an objective scientific paper backed up with facts. But film viewing isn’t fact, it’s experience. It always was and it will always be, whether we’re speaking of popular mainstream or niche arthouse cinema.

I was therefore happy to read Luis Rocha Antunes’ book Multisensory Film Experience: A Cognitive Model of Experiental Film Aesthetics (2016), which contains a lot of material that is applicable to Slow Cinema, or that comes specifically from slow films. Antunes even mentions Slow Cinema, which doesn’t surprise me at all. He argues that the multisensory in film can be felt primarily in films with little dialogue, films which allow time for viewer experience, films which are often austere in their aesthetics. That is not to say that other films don’t offer this experience. It is just more difficult to perceive an action blockbuster as multisensory rather than as an image-sound-product. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Specifically, Antunes writes: “By using non-verbal communication and the senses, these films capture the interest of various audiences. The experiential appeal of these films is universal” (2016: 7).

The fact that the experiential aspect is universal explains (to me) why there is a rather large group of people attracted to slow films, and if you ask them why they’re attracted to it, it seems as though they all feel the same. Certainly to different degrees, but it is always about the specific experiential aspect of the films, not about how amazing the actress looks, or how mind-blowing the cuts were. There is something that sits deeper in those viewers who admire slow films, and I believe that Antunes’ book is a very good start to explore this “something”.

After years heavy with sensorial experience, be it through post-trauma or through cinema, I can heartily support Antunes’ proposition that “the experience is the message”: “it is the experience – not the medium alone – that defines the perceptual nature of the message” (2016: 13). In some ways, this is one of the cornerstones of meditation and Buddhist/Taoist beliefs. It is about experience. For that to happen, for the experience to materialise, you need to be in the moment, in the present, and this can be facilitated through certain aesthetic choices by filmmakers, as is the case in Slow Cinema, the way I see it. In fact, Antunes mentions slow-film directors as varied as van Sant, Tsai Ming-liang and Albert Serra.

The issue is that we have lost the ability to be in the moment, which makes it difficult for us to feel a film as a multisensory experience. This explains why so much emphasis is placed on images first of all, then maybe on sound. If they follow classic patterns like changes of colour for mood changes or change of shot lengths if a character reveals something important to the narrative, images are easy to read. Add a chunk of quick cuts, and the viewer has little chance to be with a film. I think Antunes’ book is worth reading if you’d like to understand the psychological and biological processes behind the multisensory film experience. Antunes cognitive model can be overwhelming, but it is an eye-opener, or perhaps rather a reminder of what cinema is about, namely experience.

Sixty Spanish Cigarettes – Mark John Ostrowski (2015)

There is something sublimely beautiful about Mark John Ostrowski’s film Sixty Spanish Cigarettes (2015). Fifteen minutes into the film, an extreme long shot captures the sea and coast in the background. From the right hand side of the frame, a small boat comes into view. Ostrowski’s camera stays with the boat and follows it. Even in this extreme long-shot, we can see how the boat is moved by the wind and the waves. The sun is shining from behind a few clouds, it seems. The image is not in colour, even though you would perhaps think that. Coastal images in colour are always superb.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 16.23.43

But no. Ostrowski works against our expectations. He frustrates us. Scenes of blissful contemplation are interrupted by hard cuts to a black screen. Those contemplative scenes of land- and seascapes, for instance, feel like a carrot Ostrowski is hanging in front of our eyes. But he takes that carrot away as soon as we have almost reached a state of contemplation. We cannot contemplate everything at once. We have to give it time. We have to be patient in order to reach this desired state. Ostrowski works well in alternating beautifully slow shots with a black screen, the latter making us hyper-aware of where we are.

Paradoxically, Sixty Spanish Cigarettes is about movement, and yet it gives us no feeling of speed at all. We see the protagonist walking through several different (beautiful) landscapes, which reminded me strongly of those used in Albert Serra’s Birdsong (2008). The clouds are brushing slowly over the hills, while the man is often dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape. He is alone, alone on his way to an unknown location. At times, he stops to light a cigarette. At other times, he simply rests. It is this solitude which gives us a feeling of slowness, a sense of pause. The repeated scenes of a man’s walking through an empty landscape brought a wonderful book back into my head; The Philosophy of Walking. If you haven’t read it, please do get yourself a copy.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 16.08.01

Ostrowski’s film shows the director’s superb photographic eye. Many of his shots are beautifully composed. They could easily be photos in an album, or large prints in a gallery. To me, the visual beauty of the film was also its strongest asset; the viewer in awe of nature, in awe of simple but expressive architecture. Ostrowski’s long-takes of those “photos” helped me to pause, to be in the present but also to wonder what the protagonist was really up to. I’m not entirely sure whether this is ever fully revealed in the film, but it is of little interest in any case. Sixty Spanish Cigarettes is more of an atmospheric film than about a set narrative persistently progressing within the film’s 60 minutes running time. It reminded me of Martin Lefebvre’s modes of viewing; the narrative mode and the spectacular mode. Many slow films, which most certainly includes Ostrowski’s film, operate very much in the spectacular mode, even though there is a narrative mode in all. But the narrative mode is suppressed in many instances to give way to contemplation.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 17.56.30

I believe that the film could have been a tick shorter in order to make full use of its shots. I’m not entirely sure when this shot appears, perhaps after around 45 to 50min. There is a beautiful extreme long shot of a landscape at the coast, with the protagonist sitting on a rock or something similar. He has his back turned to us and is looking at the scenery, like us. I expected the film to cut there. It would have been the most fitting and most suitable ending for the film, but unfortunately Ostrowski did not cut there and kept going instead. The final images, to me,weakened the film slightly because they were not entirely necessary.

Nevertheless, with Sixty Spanish Cigarettes, Ostrowski has created a beautiful piece of Slow Cinema, which, regardless of whether or not he continues this slow journey, adds him to my list of directors to look out for in future. If the film runs at a festival near you, I highly recommend watching it!

Mourning Cinema

For parts of my work on Lav Diaz’s Melancholia, I read Richard Armstrong’s Mourning Films (2012). It wasn’t quite as helpful as I thought for the actual content of my chapter, but there was something else that popped up while reading the conclusion of the book, namely the question whether Slow Cinema is Mourning Cinema. At least in part. I’m aware that not all slow films are rather depressing. Albert Serra, for instance, is the comedian amongst slow-film directors, so he wouldn’t fit into this “new” category I have in mind.

What initially put me onto a track of Mourning Cinema was Armstrong’s suggestion that “the mourning film is defined by the obscure play of the seen, the withheld and the opaque” (184). Nowhere is this clearer than in Lav Diaz’s films. This is exactly what I’m interested in and it comes up in pretty much all my chapters; absence. The use of absence and emptiness is a means in Diaz’s films to convey meanings of loss, grief and melancholy. The unseen is as important as the seen in his films. You cannot read his films by looking only at the visible. It is the invisible that brings to the fore the characters’ inner turmoils. Interestingly enough, in mourning films, according to Armstrong, geography plays a role. Mourning as an interior feeling happens against the exterior of the environment. This is perhaps most visible and most accomplished in Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos.

Anyway, this was only the beginning of my thought process. The eureka effect came with the following: “These are slow contemplative works that are dedicated to a narrative progression tied not to active agendas but to a passive process of psychological healing” (186). Now, the psychological healing is relative. Not all slow films that involve some kind of loss depict the following healing process. But the main thing is the deliberate pace of the films and the focus on characters’ psychological development. This is, to me, the main characteristic of Slow Cinema, combined with the aesthetic of the environment mirroring the characters’ state of mind.

Again, not all slow films can be, but a great many films should be seen in this context. In addition to the films of Lav Diaz, there’s, for instance, Yulene Olaizola’s Fogo, an impressive study of loss and the coping mechanisms of people who do not want to give up their livelihood on a small island that decays more and more. There’s Semih Kaplanoglu’s Bal, in which a young boy tries to cope with the loss of his father, the only person that actually made him speak, a person he looked up to. There is, of course, Alexandr Sokurov’s Mother and Son, which I don’t have to describe in detail here as it is such a well-known film. All of Tsai Ming-liang’s films are based on some kind of loss, some kind of grieving for something that is not there. Even Béla Tarr’s films feel eerily empty about loss.

Loss – no matter what kind – is naturally leading to mourning. It does not always entail the death of a person. Death is rather metaphorical and concerns any kind of loss, or sudden absence of something. I would go as far as suggesting that it even concerns the threat of an absence, the threat of loss. This alone can put someone into a state of mourning.

So can Slow Cinema also be termed Mourning Cinema? In some ways, yes. There are more and more types of film that have the exact kind of characteristics as Slow Cinema, without being termed like it. Again, Slow Cinema is just a – sorry to say this – stupid novel description of something that we have seen all the way through film history. So I reckon that all of these slow films fit into other, way more known types of film, which have already received wide attention.

Story of my Death – Albert Serra (2013)

After his great films Honour of the Knights (2005) and Birdsong (2008), Albert Serra’s Story of my Death (2013) was a highly anticipated film among critics and viewers alike. Serra is one of the key players in Slow Cinema, and distinguishes himself from other slow-film directors by loosely adapting stories of literary/fictional importance: there’s Don Quixote and Sancho on his way to who-knows-where, there are the Three Kings on the way to find baby Jesus, and Story is a film about Casanova. And Dracula. Yes, Serra was rather experimental in putting his characters together.

Story of my Death is a play on Casanova’s actual book, Story of my Life, which he wrote at the end of the 18th century. Early on in the film, Casanova says that he wants to write his memoirs, but he is never seen writing. He’s dreaming of writing. He himself says at some point that he’s obsessed with words. So great is the obsession with words that he wants to write a dictionary of cheeses. Just from this, you can gather that Serra has infused his new film with his usual sense of humour. It doesn’t make you laugh out loud. It’s a somewhat subtle quality of his films. They make you chuckle in silence. It’s one of the things you cannot find in other films that are under investigation on this blog.

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I don’t want to go into too much detail about the content of the film, but there are a few things I’d like to say with regards to its aesthetics. First of all, off-screen space is really important in Story. Weirdly enough, the film’s off-screen space is not a complex construct. There are merely a few parts of dialogue between characters that happen off-screen. Still, I found it fairly interesting. Reaction shots are hardly ever used in slow films, so this shouldn’t be a surprise to me at all. And yet, it is. I think this was the case because Serra hasn’t used off-screen space to such an extent before. I found it to be a real novelty, which worked well. Somehow I expected something from the off-screen space. Maybe it was because I knew that Dracula would show up at some point. Dracula, by the way, is a superb character in this film. So is Casanova. Serra’s representation and depiction of both is brilliant and, I find, with Story, Serra has reached a high in his study of characters.

Overall, the film is rather dark, judging from the lighting used in the film. Again, it kind of fits to the Dracula theme. In fact, the film gets darker towards the end of the film, and especially when Dracula has made his appearance after an hour or so into the film. I would have liked Serra to stick to those dark shots, because they’re all lovely. Beautiful artistic compositions, which generate an atmosphere that always made me wonder how I should feel. Darkness is often equated with evil, but Serra’s shots had a strangely cosy and warm feeling to them. Whenever the film cut to a scene in broad daylight, in bright sunshine, the film lost parts of its quality. They somehow didn’t fit in there, and disrupted the lovely contemplation of the night.

Speaking of contemplation – unfortunately, I have say something that makes me rather sad. This post can be read on my Slow Cinema blog (though I will reblog it on Viewing Film), but, in fact, Story of my Death isn’t a slow film in its original terms anymore. I have decided to upload the post here as Albert Serra is an icon in Slow Cinema, so I thought it would be appropriate to include his new film here, and say at the end that Serra is seemingly moving away from Slow Cinema. Don’t get me wrong, Slow Cinema is actually something that happens naturally and is hardly ever a deliberate choice. The long-takes are in place because the directors find them to be more appropriate in relation to their subjects, for example.

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It appears as though Casanova and Dracula didn’t make for a good slow film. The film is slow, but I would not categorise it as Slow Cinema. It is a “normal” arthouse film, which tend to be slower and longer than popular films. There are some striking long-takes in the film, but overall, the cuts happen fairly quick compared to his other films. There is no interest in the relationship between nature and man, which had been an interesting part in Serra’s earlier films. The outdoor space was important, if not more important than the characters. Not quite as much as in other slow films, but the general tendency was there. Empty frames are rare, too. Compared to his previous films, Story feels rather crammed, and because it is mainly set indoors, I missed the (virtual) breathing space. There’s also a lot more talk in this film than in his others.

So, while his film is great – although it dragged on a bit in the middle which made me think that the film could have been a bit shorter – it is not Slow Cinema, which is worth keeping in mind for further studies of Serra. With Story to his credit, it appears as if he’s not a director who sticks to Slow Cinema aesthetics, but is rather flexible in what he does. Grouping him together with others like Lav Diaz, Béla Tarr, or, say, Nicolás Pereda would be wrong, in fact.

Slow Cinema in the News (February 2014)

This blog goes from strength to strength thanks to my readers. The views are now beyond the 10k benchmark, and I have readers from all over the planet. This helps enormously to make people aware of fantastic slow films, and it’s great for me to learn from you. Not all slow films show up in the news. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is something of a move towards “popular” Slow Cinema. These are films from directors, who you will find everywhere nowadays. I’m hoping to tackle this move with the help of you. It’s been a pleasure so far. But let’s shift to the news of this month:

Nicolas Pereda, slow-film director from Mexico, known for his films Interview with the Earth (reviewed here) and Summer of Goliath, has a new film, which apparently ran at the Berlinale. I must have overlooked it in the programme. The film’s title is Killing Strangers (Matar extraños), and is, in fact, a collaboration with a Danish director. Every year the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen encourages a European and a non-European filmmaker to work together. It’s called DOX:LAB. In 2012, it was Pereda and Jacob Secher Schulsinger. The trailer looks wonderful. Not that I expect something else with Pereda. Here you can read an interview with Pereda and Schulsinger.

Without an official release date yet (as far as I know), Lisandro Alonso’s new film Untitled Lisandro Alonso Project has already attracted a sales company, namely Mexican based NDM. They have acquired world sales rights. NDM also holds the rights to Carlos Reygadas’ latest film Post Tenebras Lux.

The 16e Festival du Film Asiatique de Deauville (France), which is to take place from 5-9 March, has special screenings for Tsai Ming-liang, as an homage to him and his work. They will screen his latest feature Stray DogsGoodbye Dragon Inn, and What Time is it there?

Tsai’s Journey to the West premiered at the Berlinale and, as far as I can see, the reviews were throughout very good. Here you can read an interview with Denis Lavant about working with Tsai. Remaining with Tsai, there’s a two months long retrospective of his work scheduled in Belgium from March to May. They screen gems like I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone and Visage

In Jerusalem, at the Cinematheque, they organised a retrospective of Fred Kelemen’s work, both as filmmaker and as cinematographer. Amongst the films chosen for this programme, were Tarr’s The Turin Horse, for which Kelemen acted as cinematographer, and his exceptional Frost, which is part of a trilogy. I watched it at the Slow Cinema weekend in Newcastle in 2012, and can only recommend it. 

Mexico will be home of Slow Cinema next month. The FICUNAM festival will screen Tsai‘s Journey to the West, the new film The Joy of Man’s Desiring by Denis Côté, Lav Diaz‘s Norte The End of History, Albert Serra‘s Story of my Death, Ben Rivers‘ new film A Spell to Ward off the Darknessand finally we have the two slow suspects Costa da Morte by Lois Patino and Manakanama by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez. Slow paradise?

Finally, a few videos for you:

Intriguing interview with Denis Côté about his film Bestiaire. You can, in fact, watch a couple of his earlier films on his personal vimeo page. I wanted to link to a YouTube video. Lav Diaz’s Century of Birthing appeared on the platform. But it has been removed. Culture – deleted. What more is there to say!?

Slow Cinema at Rotterdam and Glasgow

The new year starts of nicely for Slow Cinema. The International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Glasgow Film Festival have a range of slow films on offer. If you are around those locations, it’s worth checking their schedules. Here’s a brief overview:

IFFR

Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) – dir Lois Patiño, Spain*

28 – dir Prasanna Jayakody, Sri Lanka*

Another Hungary – dir Dénes Nagy, Hungary*

De chair et de lait – dir Bernard Bloch, France*

Japón – dir Carlos Reygadas, Mexico

Letters from the South (omnibus) – section dir by Tsai Ming-liang

Norte, The End of History – dir Lav Diaz, Philippines

Prologue to the Great Desaparecido – dir Lav Diaz, Philippines

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness – dir Ben River, Ben Russell, France/Estonia

Story of my Death – dir Albert Serra, Spain

‘Til Madness Do Us Part – dir Wang Bing, Hongkong*

Slow Cinema

GFF

Harmony Lessons – dir Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan*

Norte, The End of History – dir Lav Diaz, Philippines

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness – dir Ben Rivers, Ben Russell, France/Estonia

The IFFR has started yesterday. The Glasgow Film Festival will run from 20 February 2014 – 2 March 2014. Tickets will go on sale tomorrow.

Films marked with an * are suspected slow films. It sounds as if they would be slow, but I can only really tell once I see them. And this won’t be soon as I’m unfortunately not living near Rotterdam, and for someone who doesn’t live in Glasgow either, the scheduling is a bit unfortunate. I will catch the films one day, though.

Happy Slow Year 2014

Here it is, the New Year. I hope you all had a lovely Hogmanay and New Year’s day in your respective countries around the world. I also hope that you have some significant New Year’s resolutions, such as “I won’t live in the fast lane anymore”. Being a snail is so much better, and strangely enough, so much more efficient, says the one who used to do everything fast in order to manage more work. It’s an illusion. Slow is the new fast (and the new efficiency).

Last year was a good year for slow film. I’m sure that 2014 will bring more gems to the surface. I’m hoping to see Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs, Albert Serra’s Story of my Death and then there is still Lav Diaz’s Norte which I’m hoping to see on a big screen. There is also the Untitled Lisandro Alonso Project which was originally scheduled for this year.

Those are the big players in Slow Cinema, though. I discovered several new slow-film directors last year, and I’m keen on and confident about finding more this year. Some of you recommended films to me already. I appreciate it. Feel free to recommend more. I’m always happy to expand my slow horizon. I’m looking forward to all the festival announcement and dig into the trailers of the selected films. And then the hunt for films will start all over again.

As for New Year resolutions: I want to get my hands on filmmaking again, though not on anything major. My last post ended with a five-minute video of a candle. It was inspired by the YouTube channel Ten Minutes of Your Life, and my research into Slow Cinema. My aim is it to get a feel for what the filmmakers are doing, enduring, and perhaps even seeing what we might not see. I want to get a practical eye for Slow Cinema, which will inevitably influence my overall research. Not necessarily my thesis work, but my general research output (one day…).

There will be more videos of this kind on this blog. Or rather on a new blog. The videos will not all be photographic, beautiful or have an interesting subject. I merely want to experiment with different things to get a feeling for slow-film making. I know that there is a difference between making a slow feature film, and making a slow five-minutes video. But you need to start somewhere.

Even though I will primarily post the videos on Five Slow Minutes, I will nevertheless reblog some of them on this blog. I just don’t want to run the risk of mixing theory with practice. It’s best if I have two platforms for it.

That said: a Happy New Year to you all. Wishing you all the best in 2014. And always remember: take it slow!

There is more to life than increasing its speed. (Ghandi)