By the name of Tania – Mary Jimenez, Bénédicte Liénard (2019)

Since the Industrial Revolution, children have been massively exploited for work. Even though nation states regulated child labour, there is still a lot of work to do in order to safeguard them. What seems to be particularly difficult nowadays is the prevention of child prostitution. Teenagers without real roots anywhere slip into the hands of men and women, who try to profit from them, who lull them into their vicious circles with the promise of money and freedom. This “business” often happens in the dark, away from the public spotlight, and it is of major concern in Latin American countries. By the name of Tania made me think a lot, it is not a straightforward documentary, or a straightforward fiction film. Tania walks a path between these two.

To survive, I have erased myself. Time doesn’t matter.

Time doesn’t matter. Nor does a human being in a circle of prostitution. This erasure Tania, the young woman, speaks of is at the heart of the film. What matters is not visible, it’s in the off. Mary Jimenez and Bénédicte Liénard create a haunting absence throughout the film, with a lingering camera that tempts us, but that also refuses to let us go where we would like to go, that refuses to see us what we would like to see. In one scene, the camera takes us to the edge of a lush jungle. The green is marvellous, the sound eerie. We see the entrance to a jungle, lined by trees. There is a desire to walk further, to continue this walk and see what is on the other side. But the directors cut. They cut us off and leave us with an unfulfilled desire.

This is the point. There is an unfulfilled desire in Tania, too: the desire to be the young woman she should be, carefree, light, free. Free in all respects. Yet, she is cut off from this desire and taken to an underground world where the idea of freedom is connected to earning money. Tania had a difficult childhood, moving from family to family before she settled living with her grandmother. She has been taught to show strength. Crying wasn’t a way to express sorrow. It equalled weakness. We see Tania in a bus, on a boat, on a journey to an unknown place, unknown even to her.

She offers me a job, but far away. What do I have to do? Serve drinks and dance.

On a boat, the police is checking ID cards. It’s the trafficking police on the search for minors travelling alone. One 15-year-old has to leave the boat. She is considered too young to travel. The framings are tight. We are in between hammocks. Even though the boat is open and we can see the wind blowing in people’s hair, there is a sense of suffocation underlying those scenes. It is almost an atmosphere of suspicion. Once you realise that the police checks ID cards, you begin to worry about the children on board the boat. Are they travelling with their parents? Are they travelling with their “uncle”, their “aunt” who sell them to men in the city? What is going on in everyone’s mind?

I couldn’t help making a connection between Tania and Wang Bing’s Bitter Money with a pinch of Amat Escalante’s Esclava. Wang Bing’s film focuses on young people, often barely 18, or officially not 18 at all, who travel to the city in order to work. They face exploitation and conditions that tie them to their place of work. There is no freedom anymore. There is no life. They become part of an exploitative cycle of capitalist work. Esclava is about forced prostitution, a brutal short film that shows what Jimenez and Liénard don’t show.

She takes my ID card and throws it into the river. ‘Now you’re nothing’, she says.

Nothing. This is precisely the subject of the film. It is not so much about prostitution, albeit it might look like this at first. But Jimenez and Liénard, in their aesthetics, in their choice of storytelling, focus on what isn’t, on what is no longer, on what has been lost, on what cannot be reached. After fifty minutes, Tania tells us about the fines she incurs for not having a drink with customers, for waking up late. She says that her debts keeps growing, even though she works every day. Again, nothing – growing debt, no way out.

As well as the loss of dignity.

He raped me because I was a rebel.

Jimenez and Liénard’s film goes deep, travelling into the wound that is sexual exploitation. It’s a traumatic wound, which shows in the non-chronological progression of the narrative. The shifts between past and present, without warning, without explanation, are brutal. Even more brutal are the shifts between the two different pasts to which Tania returns whenever she remembers a little more. Traumatic confusion, for Tania and for us. The poetic feeling to the film is misleading. It’s a bubble, a cover, a lie to make you feel comfortable. But the truth is that the directors take you into the dark, a little deeper with every scene.

Slow Short Film Festival – Full Programme

Last year, the very first edition of the Slow Short Film Festival took place in Mayfield, England. It was a first, to me in any case. A festival focusing exclusively on slow films – a dream I have had since I started writing on Slow Cinema, and then this dream comes true thanks to a group of wonderful people. This year, I have joined the programming team and I’d like to present to you this year’s festival programme. Eight films from around the world, eight films that deal in different ways with cinematic slowness. What is best for long-time followers of mine and for supporters of tao films, is that you get a 20% discount on a festival ticket if you’re a tao films subscriber. And if you’re buying a festival ticket and are not yet a subscriber, you get 20% of your subscription to tao films. So, if you’re in or around Mayfield on 1 September, drop by, see amazing films, have a chat with likeminded people, and, with a bit of luck, you can also meet me! 🙂

The following eight films will be shown:

António and Catarina. In this film from Romanian director and cinematographer Cristina Haneș, a 70-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman share a candid and twisted relationship with a deadline. Trapped in one room, António and Catarina are negotiating the terms of their relationship.

Double Reflection by Taiwanese filmmaker Wang Chun Hong. Wang records the connection between himself and photography. His works integrate fictional life experiences with self-performance, where boundaries between fiction and reality are blurred.

In Greenland, an autobiographical film from Israeli filmmaker Oren Gerner, Oren returns to his family home to pack up before moving in with his girlfriend. The process exposes Oren’s liminal place – between child and adult, between intimacy and alienation.

High Cities of Bone, by Portuguese director João Salaviza, tells the story of Karlon, a pioneer of Cape Verdean Creole rap who runs away from the housing project to which he was relocated. Among the sugarcanes, a murmur is heard. Karlon hasn’t stopped singing.

How Do You Thirst? by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Joshua Gleason is a dialogue-free meditation set amid a growing water crisis. The film sees a lonely Japanese woman take in a stranger whom she finds passed out in the stairwell of her apartment complex.

In Investigations of a Dog, a young man, frustrated by his grim existence, decides to lie down by the river and test whether society will take care of him or let him die. Exposed to the hospitality of the elderly couple who find him, he discovers new purpose in assuaging their loneliness. The film is a work by director Aleksandra Niemczyk, a former student of Béla Tarr.

One and Many by German-born, London-based filmmaker Jonas Bak. A fly is trapped behind a window. A man lives in a new city. People’s worlds are crammed together, yet they are galaxies apart. Flies are drawn to a streetlight. Alone and together. One and many.

In 90 Seconds in North Korea, Croatian filmmaker Ranko Paulovic, who now works in the Netherlands, presents the other side of North Korean life: a world away from the army parades, paranoid leaders, oppression and fear.

A very strong line-up and I’m very proud to say that tao films will show a selection of the best submissions as part of an online festival in late September. I’m prepping the festival now to bring you as great a selection as I can! Remember, the festival takes place on 1 September in Mayfield. Early bird tickets are now £8 (until 31 July), including transport to and from Mayfield, and food.

Jauja – Lisandro Alonso (2014)

When Lisandro Alonso presented his new film Jauja at one of the big festivals last year (I can’t remember whether it was Rotterdam or another festival), critics wrote that the Argentinian director had upped his game. They said the same when Lav Diaz presented Norte, a film which demands a lot less work from the viewer than all his other works. Throughout the film I could see why critics celebrated Jauja. It’s a great film which is based on superb cinematography. Visually, it’s a stunning film. And yet, and yet…there is a but.

First of all, however, I need to say that Jauja differs greatly from Alonso’s other films. There is no longer a signature of the director recognisable. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when slow-film directors break with their usual filmmaking (which make their films so captivating) and make them more accessible that critics begin to get interested. In short, there is a pattern behind critics’ choices of what a good slow-film constitutes, and this is accessibility. If they have to use their brain too much, they won’t like it.

Jauja is a film, which differs in its structure because it is no longer focused on day-to-day activities. The focus on the “real” has been put aside for the sake of a fictional narrative, which, in some ways, simplifies the viewing process. Fictional narratives come with the promise of entertainment. The depiction of everyday activities, on the other hand, comes with the promise of “boredom”. The shift to fictional film makes it easy to see why critics have suddenly found an interest in Alonso’s film.

Regardless of my ongoing suspicion when it comes to critics’ sudden interest in certain slow films, I’m impressed with Alonso’s development. Especially the cinematography of Jauja is superb. The framing, almost a square 1:1, makes for an interesting viewing. Xavier Dolan chose a similar framing for his latest film Mommy but the effect is completely different. In Mommy, the square frame represented claustrophobia and tension. In Jauja, the square framing counters the content of the frames – vast, empty landscapes. Alonso’s depth-of-field supports the magic representation of the landscape, the depiction of characters being in the middle of nowhere.

I found that Jauja was similar to two other films. Lars von Trier’s Dogville is one film that popped into my head when I watched Alonso’s film. The set-up within the frames as well as the acting reminded me strongly of the theatrical set-up in Dogville. It often felt as though Jauja was a theatre play projected on screen. I had problems considering myself as a film viewer. It was a confusing experience, but rich because of it.

Another film which came to mind was Gus van Sant’s GerryJauja is a film about a search; a father searches his missing daughter. He walks through vast landscapes, the camera following him or at least watching him from a distant. If there is one film that comes close to the visual feeling (I’m aware this “concept” doesn’t exist, but I cannot describe it in any other way), then it is GerryJauja is the first film by Alonso, which contains clear references to other films, regardless of whether the director has included them consciously or unconsciously.

Jauja certainly is a great film, although, while impressed, I’m also a bit wary of how Alonso develops. Of course, changes are welcome, but I hope that he won’t go too far in future. His other films were remarkable because of their sheer observational nature. It felt as though you were part of something. Jauja is a film for the passive spectator (which, again, is great for critics/viewers who can’t be bothered). The film attempts to use memories/dreams as a bridge between past and present. At the end of the film, the film cuts to seemingly present-day Denmark.

It is this part which worries me about Alonso. It was unnecessary. Until then the film was superb. The last part completely disrupted the atmosphere. The long-takes suddenly felt wrong. They didn’t work. The narrative was superfluous. The idea behind the link of past and present was good, but the execution was disappointing, given that Alonso has always paid attention to character instead of narrative. Jauja is a departure from this. He shifts his attention to narrative and we will see where this will lead him.

Fogo – Yulene Olaizola (2012)

Have I ever mentioned that I love my “job”? It makes me really happy to discover all those talented, yet unknown directors from all over the world, whose films are a pleasure to watch. Yulene Olaizola’s Fogo (2012) is one of those films. Unfortunately, it is one of so many slow films that have not yet received adequate distribution, especially in Europe. So I’m very much in her debt for granting me access to a screener.

Olaizola is a Mexican director. After Nicolas Pereda, Pedro Gonzales-Rubio, and Francisco Vargas, she is the fourth stunning slow-film director from Mexico. There appears to be a real pool of slow talent over there, and I hope to see more in future. Fogo is, however, not set in Mexico, but in Canada, on the Fogo Island. Uncommon for Slow Cinema, the film starts with music over black screen, and then a cut positions us behind a man, wrapped up in thick clothes, who is slowly walking along a path while the camera, following him, slowly moves from eye level to a high angle shot. It’s a smooth transition, and it’s beautiful. This isn’t the only beautiful shot in the film. In fact, the entire film contains superb compositions. It once more reinforces my idea that slow-film directors really have a photographic eye, if trained or not.

Fogo 1

The music stops, the screen goes black again. A smooth dissolve starts the actual narrative. With the man we saw earlier walking in the background as a tiny dot in the landscape, our eyes are fixed on the ruins of houses we’re shown. There is one particularly tilted house, possibly a result of landslides. The man knocks on the door of that house, saying “Last ferry leaves day after tomorrow.” What is going on?

There is this remarkable shot which I can’t get out of my head. It’s indoors, dark, with a bit of backlight coming through the window, which illuminates the window itself like a holy relic. A man sits on the right hand side of the frame. Waiting. In silence. He’s the man in the titled house. Through a conversation between him and another man, we learn that the part of the island the films is set in is to be evacuated. People can no longer live there. More shots of the island throughout the film make the reason behind the evacuation obvious: it’s an utterly desolate landscape. It’s a landscape of emptiness (as is so often the case in slow films) that cannot provide for the people anymore. The island stands for death.

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While most people leave the island, two men stay behind. Even though they’re alone there, I see it as a solitary confinement. Truth is, the last ferry is gone. They have decided to die (slowly) on this island, so in effect they are trapped. Trapped alone, but together. In this way, Fogo is Slow Cinema par excellence. The entire narrative is structured around absence and emptiness. Death is hinted at. It is about loneliness and hopelessness. There are lengthy scenes of two men walking across the island to seek a better place, where they can stay until the end. There is this feeling of imminent death. One scene that reminds me of it, which conveys this brilliantly, shows one of the men chopping wood. Now, the frame is rather empty, and it contains only one tree, which is positioned a bit off-centre. Nowhere, not even in the farthest background is there any other tree visible. It looks as if the man chops down the last tree of the island to get some fire wood. The last resources are being used.

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Throughout the film, the light is low. It’s a rather dark scenery, but it is important to note that with growing hopelessness, the frames become darker. Indeed, we could move towards night. Yet the very fact that light is diminishing conveys a reliable sense of “the end”, both in terms of the film itself, but also that of the people on this island.

What I’m not entirely sure about is just how much fiction and fact is in it. Again, this appears to be a common trope within Slow Cinema. I remember Nicolas Pereda, who always moves between fiction and documentary. Lav Diaz did the same in Death in the Land of Encantos. And Michela Occhipinti approached Letters from the Desert in a very similar way. I assume that Fogo is also one of those films that are a bit of both. I wonder if it would make sense to re-define the term docu-fiction in relation to Slow Cinema. I think it would be useful, certainly for those films.

Anyway, if Fogo appears at a festival near you, do please go see it. If you want to see a superb slow film, then this is a very good choice, in particular because it is only an hour long. Good for all those people, who have little patience for slowness!

Day 20 – Interview with the Earth (Pereda)

Quite a while ago, I watched Summer of Goliath (2010) by Nicolas Pereda, a hugely interesting slow-film director from Mexico. Pereda is not only interesting because of the aesthetics he employs. He is also living in Canada, if I’m not completely mistaken. This means that he always returns “home” for filming. For me, it’s bound to result in an interesting, but also blurred line between objectivity and subjectivity. This isn’t the only blurred line in his films, though.

Pereda is known for his documentary / fiction hybrids. Interview with the Earth (2008), a short film of only twenty minutes, is in no way different from Pereda’s feature films. In fact, it contains material, he later used in Summer.

Interview with the Earth (2009), Nicolas Pereda

The opening of the film brought up one desire: to watch all of his films in the successive orders they were released. When I saw the elderly woman with a chicken on her lap, and the two boys – Nico and Amalio – I had the instant need to watch all of his films. I believe that Pereda’s films are closely linked to one another. It’s a bit like Tsai Ming-liang’s films. Every film has a specific link to the following work. You can watch them as separate, individual films, but the overall message only comes through if you watch them in their successive order.

For Pereda, I would say, it is similar, though I cannot say for sure as I haven’t seen enough films. It is only a feeling after all. The title of his short, Interview with the Earth, makes perhaps little sense at the beginning. You can probably figure it out at some point. But the embodiment of the title appeared right at the end of the film, when Nico recorded sound on a cemetery with a boom and a mic. He is quite literally conducting an interview with the earth, though not by asking questions. Simply by listening, an important asset to have as a viewer of slow films. 

Compared to SummerInterview is a striking experience because of its sound. Earlier this year, I wrote about the effects of music and dialogue on the perceived speed of films. I used the context of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel. Pereda made extensive use of music and sounds here. I couldn’t decipher the instruments that were used, but they created a strangely haunting atmosphere throughout the entire film. In the film itself, we learn about the death of David, a boy who fell off a mountain when picking cacti. Nico and Amalio are interviewed about this event, and there’s also talk about sacrificing a chicken, and burying it on the spot David died.

Interview with the Earth (2009), Nicolas Pereda

The haunting music underlines the seemingly omnipresent aspect of death perfectly. There was something that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Nothing grave, obviously. But what does this music represent? The ghost of David? The haunted or even haunting soul of the dead? In comparison to Mekong Hotel the music in Interview did not increase the perceived speed of the film. I’m not entirely sure why. Apichatpong used simple and slow guitar rhythms, which, on their own, shouldn’t have sped up the film. But they did somehow. It’s a curious thing I’d like to explore in more detail one day.

Anyway, Pereda is one of the discoveries of 2013 I’m really happy with. He’s a great filmmaker, and his films are worth your attention.