Their Remaining Journey – John Clang (2018)

Their remaining journey… My journey. Your journey. Our journey. John Clang’s debut feature is one of those films that won’t let me go for a while. It might have taught be something. Perhaps. What is certain, though, is that the film has touched me deeply because it came at a time when I myself struggle with this journey Clang represents in Their Remaining Journey.

A week before Christmas, my father-in-law died after a long, painful battle with ALS, an incurable disease that puts a strain on everyone. His death came as a shock, but also as a relief. After three-and-a-half years of suffering, he could finally rest in peace. Life became a chore, death meant peace. He was only 59. That said, since he passed away, I’ve seen him several times. He appears in some situations, but not in others. I have never experienced this before, and this isn’t the first death in the family. But in this case, death must have struck a particular cord and it’s not easy to shake it off.

With that in mind, Clang’s magnificent debut was not always an easy watch. It’s not a film that you watch and forget. It’s not a film that contains flat images and a few spoken words. It’s a film that really speaks to you, a film that makes grief, in particular, palpable. It is a film about fear, frustration, despair, love, life. It blurs the lines between what is and what isn’t, between reality and imagination. Clang follows three main characters/families, who – each in their own way – deal with the loss (or the feared loss) of a loved one. There is a sense of pain apparent throughout the film.

Clang, a visual artist who made this powerful film his debut feature, is careful in his observation of grief and the interconnectedness of life and death. He takes his time, without over-stretching it. And yet, the film feels almost like slow-motion, despite the frequent use of quick cuts or even timelapse at various points. It’s the idea of life after death being slower. Grief and its seven associated stages deplete your energy. They exhaust you, tire you out. Sleep is essential, depression is not unusual. What happens is a change in our perception of time, very similar to what happens after a traumatic event. That said, death is traumatic for those who remain behind…

Their Remaining Journey often reminded me of the works of Lav Diaz. Clang allows his characters to develop. Nothing much happens in the film, nothing on the outside. The flat images on the screen, characterised as they are by a theme-enhancing monochrome grey, don’t say much. The first reading of the film is limited, simple. It was, I believe, Luis Rocha Antunes in his book The Multisensory Film Experience, who opposed the famous adage “the medium is the message” and instead suggested that it is the experience that is the message. That in turn brings me, once more, to Luke Hockley’s Somatic Cinema and the argument that there are (or can be) three layers of meaning in films. To me, not all films are as complex. However, Clang’s investigation of death – its aftermath or its potentiality – fits very much into a list of films that invite a experiential approach to understanding the director’s work.

It is not the chain of images that is important, albeit Clang demonstrates a very good eye for getting to the bottom of the subject he attempts to explore. What the director makes possible is an experience. It is a film that is felt rather than simply seen. It is felt even more so when you have recently lost a loved one and you’re in the midsts of grieving. What makes the film more experiential than others is, first of all, the time spent on the subject. With a running time of one hour forty, the film is not particularly long. But Clang doesn’t do much to drive the narrative forward. Their Remaining Journey is a vertical film. It doesn’t develop much horizontally (on the axis of narrative progression), because it puts almost everything into the exploration of psychology, which is the vertical axis (as I have demonstrated in previous blog posts and my PhD thesis).

The viewer’s journey is a vertical one. And so it might be for the dead. Is a horizontal progression possible after death, or is vertical the only direction left? I believe that Clang answers this question beautifully. The director goes deep, explores our minds, our expectations, our naked fears. He does so by confronting us with ourselves, by holding up a mirror and by asking us to take a journey…a journey with our loved ones, a journey with ourselves, to the depth of our feelings.

tao films VoD now live

I’m very pleased to announce that tao films VoD is now live after a year of hard work. It is a project I’m particularly proud of. Since midnight CET, you can now stream six selected films from around the world, and you can do so until 31 March 2017.

Our feature films are Centaur by Aleksandra Niemczyk, a film shot in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Aleksandra’s studies at Béla Tarr’s film.factory. She says about why she made the film: “As for the reason to make Centaur, it was the idea to make something personal yet fictionalized. And Centaur is based on the story of my grandfather who, in 1953 was paralyzed by polio during an epidemic that affected the whole world. It is very much abstracted from the reality, more like a vivid memory.”

Then there is Osmosis by Greek filmmaker Nasos Karabelas, a deeply philosophical piece about life, death, and everything in between. It’s a film heavily laden by a voice-over, which gives substance to the often empty frames. In Nasos’s own words, “The movie sets questions which reflect firstly my personal worries and secondly the daily life of a human being at this very moment.”

I’m exceptionally proud of presenting to you Scott Barley’s Sleep Has Her Housethe young director’s first feature film. It’s very experimental. No dialogue guides you through the images; you have to learn to read them. In our interview with him, Scott ponders about the relationship between film and viewer: “What does a mountainside, deep in its slumber say about being a human being? What does a picked flower floating in a starlit pond say? How does time pass us, as we stand rooted, in the quiet wind, mesmerised by the moon above us? How can we go beyond ontology and communicate in discussion through cosmological questions? To me, the body, and the stars are both one and the same. And the film and the spectator are too. They feed off each other.”

The ebb of forgetting is a short film by Filipino director Liryc de la Cruz, who has previously worked with Lav Diaz. It shows in his films; black-and-white empty frames, a focus on contemplation and nature. About the choice of cinematic slowness, Liryc told us, “Regarding the slowness in my films, for me, this “slowness” is a gift to our soul, especially that the world now is moving so fast. So when you are able to immerse yourself or get inside this “slowness,” it’s like you exist at the right moment, at an ideal pace that the world seems to lack right now. I want that moment to be experienced by my audience while watching my films.”

French duo Ozal Emier and Virginie La Borgne present their short film Metropole, a strong film about what it means to leave your home and settle in a different country, and about how your past travels with you wherever you go. Ozal explains, “There is something very violent in cutting your ties with your culture and forget who you have been so far in order to “fit” in a new place. This is what Hector did, in the name of integration and social success.”

Last but not least, we’re happy to show A souvenir from Switzerland by Thai director Sorayos Prapapan. The refugee crises from 2015 hits the art world; the Thai directors, in Switzerland for a festival, meets an Afghan filmmaker friend who has become a refugee in Switzerland. Set against iconic images of Swiss mountains, Sorayos gives us an individual perspective on the refugee crises. What characterises the film is the absence of faces. Sorayos explained his choice: “I think without our faces, the story feels as if it belongs to everyone and not only to him and myself. This kind of thing can happen to anyone in the world who lives in a country which lacks freedom of expression.”

If these six films sound appealing to you, please join us on tao films. You can watch trailers of the films and read the full interviews with our selected directors. A feature film costs 4.99€ and a short film costs 1.99€. We have a special package price, which gives you access to all six films for 17.99€. Please note that our platform aims to support the directors and their new films. Two-thirds of the profits go directly to the directors.

I’m looking forward to welcoming you on tao films!

8 Questions for Sebastian Cordes

His poetic observation A place called Lloyd (2015) made Danish director Sebastian Cordes a slow-film director to look out for in future. I had a brief chat with him about his film. My thanks goes to Sebastian, who made this possible!

I always start my interviews with questions about how filmmakers have come across their subject. I find this particularly intriguing in your case. It is not the kind of everyday situation or place we usually find in slow films. So, how did you find this “place called Lloyd”?

As much as I would like to say that I was travelling around South America, and found this magical place on a journey to discover new stories, it was as simple as an article I read in the Danish newspaper Politiken. A classic stumple-upon-story. But I was struck by it, and thought ‘we have to go immediately!’ So we actually managed to get some funding real quick and really nice equipment by the Filmworkshop (under the Danish Film Institute) in Copenhagen, but didn’t want to go into long term negotiations with pitches and budgets with bigger production companies, the story could be gone by then. This is why the budget of the film was something like 10.000 dollars.

I noticed that the film is centred on the people of the former airline Lloyd Aero Boliviano. Was that your choice from the beginning or did that particular approach crystallise during the pre-production/shoot? I’m asking because many of your shots are stunning. Your film could have easily been an entirely visual piece on the subject.

First of all, to call it a ‘former airline’ is not entirely correct, especially if you look at it from their point of view. They still work, trying to get a license to fly again etc. But yes, admittedly, the pictures that accompanied the article attracted me, because of the abandoned nature in it. The dusty hangars, the worn out planes (what a metaphor for loss, to have your wings clipped!). It is not on purpose if it seems centered around something, rather it is centered around the nothingness at the place, and how this apparent nothingness is filled with meaning, pride, history and absurdity. How the buildings have this immanent aura to them.
It quickly became evident that this was a place like no other place I had ever been to. And the film needed to express this, not explain it. This is why there’s almost no talking, and when there is, it’s not interviews, but merely monologues told to the camera. We did not seek out stories that fitted into any predetermined idea of the place, but people came up to us out of the blue, and told us stories, that we then would ask them if they wanted to tell again on camera. So we tried to film, or express, our experience of the place, and stay away from any common logic of storytelling. I’m not really interested in that essentialist way of trying to narrow it to down to what the place is, as if that’s possible. Instead of looking at what it is, I’d rather look at how it is, or just that it is. To quote the first sentence of the Eminem/Rihanna song Love The Way You Lie “I can’t tell you what it really is. I can only tell you what it feels like.”

There are several beautiful shots which stand out. They have something photographic about them. How much time do you actually spend on composing those images? How important are the visuals to you?

This is where other filmmakers usually have eyes wide open and shake their head, especially documentary filmmakers. We would often use 10-15 minutes to set up a shot, and this is after we have gone scouting for that shot, perhaps the day before, taking notes, and if there’s supposed to be a person in the shot, test it out with one of us in front of the camera, notice when the light is how we want it – what time of the day is best etc. And then, we had sort of a silent agreement, me and the camera man, Jakob, that even if we went through all this and one of us had any doubt that we probably wouldn’t want it in the final film, we didn’t shoot it. As if we were filming on celluloid made of gold. This is why we only came back with less than four hours of material, for an 80 min film. Something that people also have a hard time believing.

Don’t get me started on the importance of the visuals. It is a puzzle why form and content is separated in the way it is in cinema still. I simply don’t get it. It seems Aristotle won that battle. The visuals are extremely important to me – it is the same as asking how important is the content. Well, they don’t go without each other. It been a forty years since McLuhan pointed out that the medium is the message, but perhaps it didn’t ring a bell for the people in cinema. And I often feel like an outcast pointing this out, as if it’s even close to being avant-garde to say that. It isn’t in any other art form.

You spend a lot of time capturing the daily affairs of the people. This is primarily achieved through long-takes. Why did you choose an aesthetic of slowness for the depiction of your subject?

Because I’m a lazy filmmaker, basically. But I have good arguments to back it up, if people don’t accept this. No, I honestly believe that A Place Called Lloyd could not have been made in any other way, if we were to be true to our experience of the place. It might be slow, it might be boring, it might be beautiful, it might be experimental, but is more true to that place, as it is now, than a journalistic or historic account. It is almost a naive, childish pointing that structures the film, not a generalising adult or a scientist way of organizing the world. Like the camera says ‘Look at this over here, it’s an empty office. Now look at this, it’s a hangar!’, as if everything has equal value. This is what Hölderlin referred to when he rightfully said, that what a poet can do is to make something interesting, just by pointing at it.

I’m interested in ways of inhabiting the world, ways being in the world so to speak. And the slowness, the static shots, is something that allows for this to unfold. I’m not that interested in events and climaxes. The slowness allows for thought, basically. Your mind starts to wander, and I think of this as a positive thing. Milan Kundera said that speed has to do with forgetting, and slowness is connected to remembering, to memory. I really like this thought. I also remember reading somewhere that in Tsai Ming-Liangs films, the main character is always time itself. I could really identify with this.

The daily affairs is a subject a care a lot for. I’m in favour of looking at the Other as a screen of informations, where you can’t enter the mind or the intentions of him/her, but only have access to the appearance. Then habits become something loaded with enormous potential meaning, the daily actions as something revealing. Especially with the state of the company as backdrop. And if the daily live is repetitive, the film should be too. This is where film has an advantage as an artform, as visible surfaces extended in time.

I remember during a conversation at the Danish Film School between Joshua Oppenheimer and Werner Herzog that I was watching, they came up with the phrase “out of the soil, not out of the head” to describe their approach to style. I like this, even though I have to add that inevitably there’s as head on that soil, that wants to capture something.

There are two very moving interviews, or rather monologues, in your film. Interestingly – considering the subject of Lloyd, namely the death of an airline – both stories describe events that are connected to actual death in one way or another.

Monologue is a good word, because we didn’t use interviews, we would ask them if they would retell stories they told us. I normally use the word stories, but monologue is better actually. Yes, you also mentioned in your review the focus of death in slow cinema in general, and I hadn’t actually thought of it before. This must one of those unintentional but revealing things that a director can’t explain himself.

The place did seem to have an aura of a last breath before death, but this breath has been held for 7-8 years, and who says you can’t turn back to life just before you exhale that last breath.

In my review, I mentioned Denis Côté and Carlos Casas. Your film, I find, is very close to Côté’s style in Bestiaire, but as far as I know you don’t know either of the two directors. So what or who are your influences?

Only by name, I haven’t seen any of their films before, that’s true. I have a lot of influences, I’m basically a big fanboy of a lot of things. And then I copy all of them, and put them in a big bowl and mix it, so hopefully no one notices. With this film, just to mention a few: In terms of editing – minimalist music (especially Steve Reich). In terms of sound and the approach of inviting people into your mediated experience of a place – Harvard Sensory Lab, (and the book Doing Sensory Ethnography by Sarah Pink). In terms of visuals, Andy Wahol and the godfather of Danish documentary film Jørgen Leth. In terms of slowness and the effect on the audience that that a lingering camera can have – Jim Jarmusch, but also Beckett and Camus – the absurdity of continuing without any promise of good in the future.

I tend to read a lot of philosophical and academic stuff (I studied philosophy for four years). Hegel, Zizek, John Cage, Heidegger and Deleuze makes me want to make film a thousand times more than watching films in general. I try to watch more, but I have to force myself to it.

Have the people already seen your film? Have you actually returned to Bolivia since you’ve finished Lloyd?

We were there in February, but haven’t been back yet unfortunately. This is mostly due to funding and festival planning, because we all want to go back. This was one of my greatest experiences ever, the people, the food, the place in itself. This is one of the reasons a make documentary films, however experimental they are. There is a world, that you let yourself plunge into, experience and organise with your camera. That, and my general lack of imagination.

Are you working on a new project already?

I’m working on a hopeless project doomed to go wrong, or at least turn out extremely incomplete. I want to do a film on slowness, or lingering, in itself. Instead of dancing around, using the method of slowness, boredom etc. I want to remove any story that could uphold the film and keep the attention of the audience and try to film the concept of slowness. Can you even film a concept?

I’m thinking of blending the form of Jim Jarmusch’ Coffee & and Cigarettes-like conversations, orbiting around Slow Food, Heideggers notion of boredom and areas like that, with examples of slowness; calligraphy, wandering, wild life sound recorders, sex. And then readings to the camera, like the monologues in A Place Called Lloyd.

After the premiere at CPH:DOX, a couple of people came up to me and said they were really annoyed with the pace of the film for the first ten minutes, but then they gave up being critical. And they told me they had a whole new cinematic experience. This reminded me of Hannah Arendt, my girlfriend has just written an academic paper on her. She said that thinking is fundamentally a destructive force. Dwelling makes you think, makes you reconsider, makes you meet your own conscience. It doesn’t build, it reconsiders. This is a very political intention, of course not in the classical sense.

But I think that by getting rid of a story, I can dig deeper into that notion of opening up to a space where this is possible. Where the audience can be attuned to thought. But the most important here is again, that we don’t explain anything, but invite to the sensory experience of slowness.

 

Review: Béla Tarr, The Time After – Jacques Rancière

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed András Bálint Kovács’ book The Cinema of Béla Tarr (2013), which turned out to be a disappointment. Jacques Rancière’s book (original title: Béla Tarr, Le temps d’après) was published in 2011. The English translation hit the book market last year.

If I wanted to review the book in only one sentence, I would say that it’s much better than Kovács’ book. By miles. I read the French and the English version, the latter has been done well to come as close to the original as possible. The most outstanding fact of the book is that it conveys the atmosphere of Tarr’s movies to a greater extent. The book is at times rather poetic, which fits well to Tarr’s filmmaking. It’s a book that stays true to the subject it is studying. I missed this in Kovács’ book, in which Tarr’s films were quantified and dissected into a great many pieces. The over-analytical approach irritated me, and because of its approach the book wasn’t the greatest advertisement for Tarr’s cinema.

Rancière’s approach is different. I had the feeling that he doesn’t quantify the films. Rather, he focused on the quality of the films. His style of writing is very different from that of Kovács’. If you expect an academic study of Tarr’s films, you may not be happy with The Time After. Analysis takes over towards the end of the book, but until then it all feels like an experience. Tarr’s films, too, are experiences, as is the case with the vast majority of slow films. The main factor that distinguishes them from contemporary narrative (blockbuster) cinema is that it’s an experience, instead of an action-packed entertainment parcel.

I do have to admit that it was sometimes difficult to follow Rancière. At times it felt as if he drifted off, and didn’t care anymore whether the reader could follow him. It felt as if he was in his own world, and yes, sometimes it read as if he wasn’t writing, but speaking. This tone made the reading an entirely different affair. I had a much better image of Tarr’s films. I could feel the images, and this is so essential about his films.

With his poetic writing, I assume, Rancière manages to wake the interest of the reader who is not familiar with Tarr’s films. The book is an experiential piece without its ever giving away too much of the films themselves. When you’re done with Kovács’ book, you have pretty much seen all of Tarr’s films. His study is so detailed that you don’t have to see the films anymore. On the other hand, the tedious analysis might have put you off the films anyway. Rancière, in contrast, points to aspects of Tarr’s films, without making a detailed analysis out of it – just as Tarr would have liked it. He said several times that his films shouldn’t be analysed or interpreted. I always found this to be a somewhat arrogant statement of an auteur, but after I read Kovács’ book I could see the truth in Tarr’s point.

This is for me the biggest success of Rancière’s book: he does not put people off Tarr’s films. He makes them sound interesting. His writing remains true to the films and to Tarr’s filmmaking. There’s no attempt at analysing every scene of every film. The only 92 pages strong book covers Tarr’s entire oeuvre superbly. At times, it’s confusing, I have to admit, because Rancière jumps from one film to another. Overall, however, it feels as if he said everything that can realistically be said about Tarr’s films without making it a dry, distant and utterly boring affair. There may be more books on Tarr in the future, who knows. But The Time After is definitely the one to top for me.

[Béla Tarr, The Time After, by Jacques Rancière, Univocal, available on Amazon]