No No Sleep – Tsai Ming-liang (2015)

Semi-retired filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang continues to impress with his Walker series, of which the seventh instalment has popped up on YouTube. It is astonishing that even though these short films are, I assume, all supposed to be about the red-robed Lee Kang-sheng, there are nevertheless unique elements in each of the shorts. The Walker series is not only about a monk, at times invisible in masses of people, who walks from A to B. In fact, I believe that Tsai is changing his approach ever so slightly in order to avoid boredom on the part of the viewer. Then again, if you click on the YouTube video you can find all the comments underneath. There’s so far only one in English, and this one says “WTF”. I don’t think I need to say more 🙂

What makes No No Sleep different from the previous Walker instalments? First of all, Tsai changes the locations. The first instalment, the original Walker, was set in busy Hong Kong. He then switched to Marseille, and now we’re in Tokyo. Tokyo, for me the embodiment of speed, and therefore an apparent must for a Walker film. But this would be too straightforward. Tsai’s new short is set late in the evening. Tokyo is everything but busy. It is a comparatively quiet place, which goes well with the monk’s speed, or slowness, however you want to define it (“pace” is perhaps the best word!). Whereas in Journey to the Westit was a game for the viewer to find the red-robed slow-walking monk in superbly constructed frames, No No Sleep consists of frames without the monk. This is, for someone who is used to the previous instalments, confusing. I spent quite some time looking for the monk because I expected him to be there; somewhere, wherever, hidden in good old Tsai Ming-liang style.

But no, not all frames show the monk. Tsai plays with our expectations. He makes his Walker series interesting by using small elements as game changers, as is the case with the Find-The-Monk game. Another interesting aspect at the beginning of No No Sleep is the fact that a narrative, or at least a progression of whatever you may call it, is constructed through editing. This is quite remarkable in that this is hardly ever the case in Tsai’s films, or in Slow Cinema in general. One take shows one event. No No Sleep moves away from this. The monk’s endless walk (across a bridge?) is shown in a strikingly traditional manner: extreme long shot, medium shot, reverse shot. A progression is intimated through the use of different shot distances over the course of perhaps seven minutes. This felt a bit like a shock at first. A sudden cut to a medium shot in order to show the same thing, only from a different distance, was not what I was used to. But again, these are the elements which keep the Walker series interesting.

There is one scene, which I absolutely loved. It blew my mind even though it was dead simple. There was no monk to be seen, although he could have been in the train which comes to a stop in front of us. It feels as if we’re on a platform at a train station. A train is moving into the station. But for some reason we suddenly start to move. This mind-boggling experience, especially visually, prevents you for a few seconds to realise that the camera is set on a tripod in another train, which sets off and takes you through Tokyo at night. This extensive scene is beautiful, mind boggling and simply superb. It completely disrupts the idea of slowness, but this doesn’t make it less interesting for me, the viewer. It was one of the most wonderful scenes I have seen in a film for a long time, and I thought that this scene alone would be perfect for a gallery. I could have been on this train for an hour or two.

Another surprise is that Tsai starts to infuse his Buddhist monk walks with the sexual undertones we know from his feature films. I always thought that Tsai would shy away from this, but he proved me wrong. Again, this is lovely because No No Sleep upset my expectations and I was reminded that I should simply not expect anything when I watch a Tsai film, or any slow film for that matter. Just let the film happen to me.

Son of the lovely capitalism – Suranga Katugampala (2015)

What a lovely surprise I received in my Facebook inbox last week! Suranga Katugampala provided me with a short film of his, which acts as a form of test for his upcoming feature film. Aesthetically, his work looks more than promising and I thoroughly enjoyed the 18 minutes in his world.

Suranga is from Sri Lanka, but lives in Italy and, according to him, he wants to capture the current situation of the young in today’s Europe. There is some stunning cinematography involved. Simple, but very effective. The director makes us watch a young man in each of his long takes. Rarely does he move. The young man (not necessarily always the same one) is static more often than not, or moves only sporadically. Given the subject matter of the film, this non-movement of the character seems plausible; today’s drive for capitalism is a trap for young people. Capitalism leaves little breathing space for people, but especially for young people, who are only just beginning to build their lives, wanting it to be better than their parents’, perhaps.

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The way Suranga frames the characters strongly reminded me of Tsai Ming-liang’s Walker series. One scene, in particular, stands out: a young man, bare-chested, curled up on the stairs of a subway station. He’s in the centre of the frame. The camera angle is high. It looks as though the young man is suffering. Is it because of increasing poverty perhaps? Regardless of the possible reason, no one cares. Just as people hurry past Tsai’s monk in Journey to the West, so do people walk past Suranga’s young man without so much as a glance at him. Their behaviour then led me to think about German poem called Städter, which describes the situation in big cities – so many people, so much loneliness. Everyone fights for himself.

After about half of the short film, Suranga begins to insert experimental features, which have a striking effect in that they disrupt the slowness induced by long takes. Superimpositions, a quick succession of cuts, a haunting and threatening hammering in the soundtrack. A long shot shows a painting or a sort of graffiti on a wall. It took me a while to find the young man in the shot, but there he was: positioned under the drawn hoof of a seemingly wild horse. Is the wild horse capitalism? The image is, to me, the strongest in the entire film and gives you a taste of Suranga’s talent and goal. He plays with us, he disorientates us – for instance by putting the camera on its head, which really turned my head round! – and in doing so he turns his film into a complex experience for the viewer.

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There is something eerie about the end, with its archival footage projected onto the young man’s back while he covers in front of a screen. It’s a quiet, powerful ending, which made me want more. If this short film was a test, then I certainly can’t wait for the feature film!

Suranga has uploaded his short film Sun of the lovely capitalism on YouTube and I’m pleased to share it with you. Please click here.

Journey to the West – Tsai Ming-liang (2013)

A lucky accident brought me to an online screener of Tsai Ming-liang’s new and highly acclaimed film Journey to the West. It had its premiere at this year’s Berlinale earlier this year, and even though I tend to avoid reviews in general, especially before I have seen a film, I couldn’t help it with this film. I was too keen on finding out what Tsai did this time.

Journey to the West is (very) loosely based on a Chinese classic of the same name. I’m currently reading it in connection to Tsai’s film. When I read the description on Amazon it sounded like a slow book; a monk travels to the West to fetch scriptures from the Buddha in 200 chapters and 2000 pages. What more do I need to make me happy? It’s a great book, by the way. Entertaining and philosophical at the same time.

Anyway, back to the film, which is, with 53 minutes, longer than Tsai’s first part of his walking series, Walker, which you can also watch online on Vimeo. The first thing I noticed was that Tsai opened up the surroundings, the environment. In Walker, the monk (superbly played by Lee Kang-Sheng) walks slowly (although slow needs a new definition here) through the streets of Hong Kong. In some ways, it’s a simple demonstration of slow and fast, of tradition and modernity, of meditative walking and hasty running.

Journey to the West is set in Marseille, France. It is a kind of “Where’s Wally?” film. In contrast to Walker, the monk in Journey is not always instantly recognisable or visible. There are scenes that require quite a bit of patience and commitment to detect the slow walking monk in his red robe. In short, the monk is not necessarily the main character. The film is a study of an ensemble of people, which wasn’t the case in Walker. In the trailer of the film, you can see the monk walking down stairs, presumably down to a subway station. This take lasts longer than ten minutes. Because of the unique combination of an extended long take and the slow walking of the monk, you get the opportunity to study the people around him; how they react to him, how they haste past him, how they look in amusement, or you can hear what they say about him. One guy, for instance, wondered whether this was a porn film shoot. Speaking of intelligence…

For me, Journey is close to visual perfection. If it hasn’t reached the stage of perfection already. It’s superb and a real joy to watch. It’s Tsai’s most photographic film yet. The beautiful cinematography and the slow walking monk reminded me of Slow Art. The scenes are like photographs, or paintings, which you study closely. You just let them unfold in front of you. It is not about your imposing a meaning. It is about letting the artwork talk to you. This is what Journey was about for me. There is a clear intention of establishing a dialogue between film and viewer in ways that differ so greatly from other films, even from Tsai’s previous films. It is a unique kind of filmmaking, which is difficult to describe to people who haven’t seen it.

Therefore, I shall finish my musings and direct you to the online screener. It is available for only a week, apparently until 27 March, via Arte France. Do watch it if you have the chance. It’s a film experience you won’t forget.

P.S.: I figured last night that the streaming works best with Mozilla Firefox.

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 in the News – January 2014

Here’s a brief rundown of news from this month. I tend to tweet these things, but I think it’s a good idea to summarise it all once a month. Better for you, and for me.

The first stills from Tsai Ming-liang’s new film, Journey to the West, have appeared onlineThey are few, but they look SO good. Very photographic. And much similar to Walker, as expected. You can find the stills here.

Journey to the West – New Film by Tsai Ming-liang

That said, The Cinema Guild has acquired the right to Tsai’s Stray Dogs. Fantastic news. This means that we will have the pleasure of having yet another Tsai DVD at home.

Carlos Reygadas has received two nominations for this year’s Cinema Tropical AwardsPost Tenebras Lux is nominated in the category Best Film, while Reygadas himself is nominated for Best Director. Good luck!

Irish filmmaker Pat Collins, who made the beautiful slow film Silence, shows his new film, Living in a Coded Land, at the Dublin Film Festival. I hope it will make its way to the UK. It was a pain to get a copy of Silence – only sold in and distributed within Ireland. Here’s what Collins said about his film:

“For this film, I’m most interested in topics like the legacy and impact of colonialism, privilege, the residue of paganism, our disconnection from and our connection to the land. But the task is to create unexpected links between the past and the present, to look at the past to illuminate the present.”

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and other independent Thai filmmakers have launched their own sales company, Mosquito Films Distributions. Aim is it to increase the visibility of Thai film in the film circuit. Good news: the omnibus feature Tsai contributed to, Letters from the South, is in their hands.

Denis Côté, whom I have mentioned in this blog in relation to his film Bestiaire, also has a new film, which is to premier at the Berlinale. Title: Joy of Man’s Desiring. Stills and a trailer have emerged, and it looks intriguing. Very similar to Bestiaire in a way. I really like this type of filmmaking.

The Joy of Man’s Desiring – New Film by Denis Côté

Apart from this, Slow Cinema is having a good start of the year with films at Göteburg, Rotterdam, Glasgow, Tromsö, Portland and Berlin. As far as I can see, there are a lot of newcomers on the slow horizon, especially in Rotterdam.