Slow Cinema, ed by Tiago de Luca and Nuno Barradas Jorge (2015)

I’m not sure where to start with this one. Not considering the content for a minute, the new and very first edited collection on Slow Cinema, aptly titled Slow Cinema appears like a bit of a fraud. A subject that has been carried by film viewers, lay film critics, and PhD students, is now appropriated by professors of high reputation who have little to do with the subject, meaning I don’t think they have expertise in the subject. A friend of mine also went through the list of contributors and said that the choice of authors made little sense. Unless, of course, you want to attract buyers who see that this book was written by professors of high standing. This method usually works. I reckon that this is also the reason to include the great Jacques Rancière, who didn’t have to be in the edited collection. His book on Béla Tarr is by far better than his chapter in the Slow Cinema book.

It is ironic, and to me it says a lot about academia and academic publishing, that a book about a subject carried by lay people has the highest amount of professors in the list of contributors I have ever had in my hands. And I really mean professors. I don’t mean lecturers. Given the work that has been done outside academia, this collection is a slap in the face to everyone who worked very hard on bringing the subject forward. Where are those PhD students who studied the subject for years and brought real innovation to it? I miss a student from my university who submitted an abstract for a chapter which would have dealt with cinematic slowness in North African cinema – a real novelty in the current geographical foci in Slow Cinema research. Where are those writer-filmmakers (like Erik Bordeleau)? If you are familiar with the subject and look through the list of contributors and contributions, you will notice that the official “Call For Papers” which was published a couple years ago was no more than a nice gesture but there was little intention in bringing together experts on the subject or in creating something new. The aim was to be first and not necessarily good. At the same time, it looks as though most of the contributors have been determined in advance, but only for their names, not for their long and close research interests in Slow Cinema…which, as I said, made the CfP pretty much redundant.

If you have read Jacques Rancière’s work on Béla Tarr, you don’t need to buy this book. If you have read Song Hwee Lim’s book on Tsai Ming-liang, you don’t need to buy this book. If you have already read Karl Schoonover’s work on Slow Cinema and the labouring body, you don’t need to buy this book. If you have read Cecilia Mello’s work on Jia Zhang-ke, you don’t need to buy this book. Nor do I believe that the almost static films of Andy Warhol (Sleep) should be subject in a book on Slow Cinema. Justin Remes has done well reading those films in his book Motionless Pictures, but Warhol should not be in a Slow Cinema collection. I could go on. After three years of research into the area, I have found myself whispering “I read this somewhere before” (and not necessarily by that specific author) a couple of times, and if you have followed this blog and read through some of my bibliography, which I update regularly, this book is nothing new to you. The monographs which are out there – as mentioned about Béla Tarr, Tsai Ming-liang, or even Tiago de Luca’s Realism of the Senses (2014) – are a great deal better.

Thankfully, the price of the book has dropped by now and it has become affordable. Nevertheless, if you’re a Slow Cinema afiniciado you should check out the monographs which exist out there already and keep reading material by lay film critics. With the hundreds and hundreds of reviews, blog posts and other material this edited collection failed to make a real contribution. One exception is once more Philippa Lovatt’s work, who is probably the only person out there who’s actively working on sound, which is always a refreshment because Slow Cinema is primarily discussed in terms of time and its visual aspects. Sound tends to be neglected. Besides, she writes about a director who has not yet been written about in all details: Liu Jiayin (Oxhide I).

The book’s most remarkable achievement is its complete neglect of this website. Harry Tuttle’s is in there. David Bordwell’s is in there. But no mention of The Art(s) of Slow Cinema (to be fair, the website is in a reference but only because I have uploaded a paper of mine, so my paper is quoted, not my website). This isn’t a personal thing. It is simply strange that there’s a website – I’d say perhaps the website on Slow Cinema these days – which the editors are aware of (I submitted an abstract and mentioned the website in my biography, besides if you look for Slow Cinema on Google my website comes 2nd after Wikipedia), and it doesn’t even get a mention. Given the contributors I can only imagine the reason. It’s not that it’s a blog. It’s a blog by someone who didn’t have a PhD at the time. In itself, this is disappointing because this website has done a lot to bring research forward and to open up the Slow Cinema canon.

What bugs me is that quite a few of my ideas from this blog appear in the book’s introduction with no reference at all. Now, you could say that I shouldn’t have made my thoughts public. But that isn’t the point I’m arguing about here. I do not own my ideas because there certainly are other people who have the same ideas on the same subject. To me it’s frankly a matter of decency and part of research ethics to cross-reference each other. I did so in my PhD thesis. I thought I had a fantastic idea but a few weeks after I had written down my ideas I found a text which, scarily enough, was even written in almost the exact same matter. These things do happen. But I referenced the student’s work because of decency and ethics. As I know that the editors are aware of this blog and that, if you research Slow Cinema, you land on this website almost by default now (which I’m proud of), this looks to me like a deliberate exclusion for whatever reason. This isn’t ethical research and summarises my experience in academia for the last three years.

The ideas someone celebrates himself for has perhaps its origins here, so please keep this in mind when, or if, you read this book. Having read this book made the entire business of film distribution and a VoD service much stronger and, personally, necessary because after those now six years following Slow Cinema and seeing the academic development, all I can say is that it’s time to get out of there and do something that is useful for the filmmakers and the films and not for my reputation as an academic, scrambling for a piece of the slow cake.

That said, if you’re a total beginner in slow films, this collection may be worth buying. If you have followed the subject for years, then it is not worth at all unless you want to read something you have already read several times before. It’s a real shame that this collection turned out like this. But once I heard which abstracts had been rejected (all of which promising and really unique), I could guess what the agenda of the book was. The final product shows exactly that.

Transatlantique – Félix Dufour-Laperrière (2014)

I love slow films for the very good reason that they stay with you, whether they’re films about happy chaps (which is hardly ever the case) or whether they’re brutal encounters with disturbing histories. The fact that they are slow gives your brain ample opportunities to record the film in detail. If a film is, on top of that, also beautifully shot, it leaves an even stronger impression. This is the case with Félix Dufour-Laperrière’s beautiful Transatlantique (2014).

What would you expect from a film which is set exclusively on a big ship, without dialogue or music? Possibly not much, but Transatlantique is a compelling piece precisely because it is beautifully shot and because it engages the viewer. Dufour-Laperrière does not show everything that happens on the ship. He uses fascinating shadow plays, originating from the changing light on the ship, in order to give us a sense of what the ship crew is busying themselves with. What are they really doing?

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There is a superb scene which made my heart melt. I would say that my eyes melted, but this sounds wrong, even though it would be more appropriate. A seemingly high angle shot records a shadow play of something. Of people, no doubt. But what are they doing? I saw two dots, this was all. I heard sounds of a football being kicked around. The scene was veiled in complete darkness from time to time whenever the sun disappeared. Then the two dots re-appeared; a mesmerising light-shadow play, which I could have watched for hours. It turned out that the crew played cricket. It was the scene which showed me most just how engaging this film is, even though I thought that I would merely float on the big sea with the crew for about an hour. This isn’t the case at all. Dufour-Laperrière has created a thoroughly engaging piece with Transatlantique.

There is another vital aspect which helps with viewer engagement. This is the issue of sound. Slow films in general put emphasis on sound, mainly ambient sound. The subtraction of dialogue allows natural sounds to come to the fore. That so many slow films are set in nature speaks for itself; it is a reminder of what else is out there apart from the spoken word. If we were to shut our mouths for a while, we would hear the birds…or the famous wind in the trees (apart from seeing it!). Dufour-Laperrière, though, plays with our expectations. As he does so with the visuals, some of which are almost impossible to decipher (and I suggest this is what makes them so beautiful and intriguing), he also frustrates us by not giving us the peaceful and meditative sound of the sea. This is perhaps one of the expectation you have of the film; hearing the sea. Transatlantique may disappoint you in that case.

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The almost complete absence of the sound of the sea was compelling. You see the sea, but you don’t hear it. Dufour-Laperrière deafens us in this regard. But it is also a reminder that nature is not one of the actors in the film, as is the case, for instance, in Lav Diaz’s films. The protagonist is the ship, not even so much the crew. I had the feeling that Transatlantique was a film about a ship. It reminded me of a big whale, almost life- and motionless, and yet so fascinating; just like the whale in Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies. Even though there are obvious narrative strands constructed around the characters, for me Werckmeister Harmonies was about the whale first of all, and then about the characters. The former influenced the latter. This is where I would position Transatlantique as well, though, to be fair, it is more difficult to clearly establish here who’s the main protagonist. Transatlantique is not a narrative film as such. It is more an observation, which echoed the approach Lisandro Alonso took in his first films.

Transatlantique is a fascinating visual and auditory piece, which keeps you engaged throughout it’s almost 80 minutes running time. Just the cinematography alone allows me to position the film in the top of the most beautifully shot slow films. It’s one of those films that made me want to pick up a camera again (and I will eventually!).

(E)Motion in slow films

A couple of days I ago, I came across a new article by Ira Jaffe, who wrote the, to me, unconvincing book Slow Movies (2014). In Slow Cinema: Resistance to Motion and Emotion, Jaffe argues that form and content work together in expressing a resistance to motion and emotion. For Jaffe, a lack or a suppression of emotion is a key characteristic of slow films. His examples are as varied as Lisandro Alonso’s, Béla Tarr’s and Gus van Sant’s films. He rules out non-narrative “slow” films such as Derek Jarman’s Blue because the film contains too much emotion, mainly delivered through voice over. If I follow Jaffe’s approach here, we can rule out Lav Diaz as a slow-film director. Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, for instance, would not be a slow film.

I find this apparently clear line between slow movies (no (e)motion) and “the rest of cinema” (motion + emotion) problematic. I don’t think that the characters actually resist emotion, even though some directors, such as Lisandro Alonso – as Jaffe demonstrates, even though he doesn’t give a source for it – ask their characters not to show too much emotion. The question first of all is, how do we define emotion? It looks as though the basis of Jaffe’s article is the heightened, artificially exaggerated display of emotion on popular cinema. If one compares slow films to those artificial portraits of emotion, then yes – Slow Cinema is dead. There’s no life in the films. But – and here is the crux – I think Jaffe forgot the idea of slow-film directors turning to a somewhat more realistic approach to film. I think very few people have emotions the way they do in Hollywood. To me, the display of these extreme switches bares similarities to bi-polar disorder. But this isn’t the norm. In general, we humans are simply flat. We do not walk around shouting, crying, laughing, and all this in the course of an hour. What slow films display is a more realist take on what we humans are like. If you filmed me for a day or two, you wouldn’t see much emotion either. I’m in the same kind of mood pretty much all day.

A second question that needs to be asked is, does the suppression of emotion only apply to the character? What about the emotion of the viewer? I find that most slow films move me, especially the films of Lav Diaz, Tsai Ming-liang and Béla Tarr. These films may be characterised as lacking emotion, but they sure stir emotion in me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Basically, it’s the same effect popular films are aiming for: making the audience feel. The aesthetics of Slow Cinema and popular cinema couldn’t be more different from one another. But the effect is the same. I don’t think that someone who makes films about trauma, or the slow death of cities and life in them, or the suffocating alienation in urban spaces aims for boring the audience. There’s no point telling these stories if they are merely used to bore the viewer. These stories are told in order to evoke something in the viewer; i.e. emotion. It is interesting here that Patrick Holzapfel, in his article The Sehnsucht nach Bewegungslosigkeit im Kinoargues that even if you look at a static photograph, one moves emotionally.

Photographs are similar to slow films. I have written about this characteristic before. Just like in photographs, you may not see everything in one frame. You may not see, say, a disturbing event which, for instance, led to the death of a mother’s child. You may simply see the mother in a picture. She may not even cry. The story around it, however, is full of emotion and this is transmitted to the viewer. To me, many slow films are similar to that. And because we move emotionally, as Holzapfel has argued, there is always movement in connection to Slow Cinema. It may not be the camera. But nevertheless, the films are more alive than is commonly presented. We just look at the wrong side of things.

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.

The different slowness in Evolution of a Filipino Family

After my initial thoughts on Lav Diaz’s Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004), I am now in the position to say a bit more about it, though I need more time studying the content. My time is now spent drawing up a shot-by-shot analysis, which, as you can imagine, takes ages for an eleven hour film. These things are incredibly helpful, but become a real pest if you work on Lav’s films 🙂

What struck me during the first two hours of detailed viewing didn’t strike me at all the first time round. I suppose we’re all agreed that Lav Diaz is a slow-film director, and we don’t question it. A look at the film’s aesthetics however shows just how much Evolution goes against the unspoken rules of Slow Cinema. And yet, it is a slow film. Why?

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The reason for this is – and I mentioned this before – the very narrow definition of Slow Cinema, which is based on only a handful of characteristics; long-takes, little dialogue, often static camera, no elaborate camera work in general, emptiness, both of characters and of the environment. Evolution contains long-takes, and the most famous is probably the scene in which Kadyo, bleeding from a wound inflicted by knife, first walks then crawls down a deserted street. That is a twenty-minute take. It feels endless, but it is one of the very few very long takes in the entire film. In fact, there are plus-minus 158 takes in the first two hours (interrupted by archival footage, the scenes of which I have not broken down separately). This, I think, is more than in his usual eight to nine-hour movies. I don’t want to quantify Diaz’s films. But my point is that he does cut quite quickly in Evolution. There are periods of six or seven cuts occurring in only sixty seconds. That is fast for Slow Cinema.

The film also contains substantial camera movement. There are persistent pans and tilts. There are even zoom ins and outs, an aesthetic characteristic you will not find in his later films. The cuts to radio drama studio recording completely disrupt the slow, rural feeling. There is very little “dead time.” There is always something happening, so there is nothing that could invite the usual “This is boring” argument, because Diaz does push the narrative forward and does not waste time in doing so. There are also very typical “mainstream” shots. Not many. But they are there; reaction shots, for instance. In Slow Cinema, you usually do not see what the characters see. We are not granted visual access to what the characters see. Not immediately. Nor are there usually changes from medium shots to close-up to make it clear what a character looks at or fumbles around with. Access to visual information is, in fact, limited in Slow Cinema. Evolution holds pretty much against it.

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We need to remember that Evolution is Diaz’s first real arthouse film, and I mean real. He made Batang West Side before, but Evolution looks like the beginning of a new era in his filmmaking. So his using these aesthetics is not bad at all, or things we should complain about. Rather, my point is that Evolution is a slow film without its complying to a lot of characteristics. If you take a very close look at it, you wouldn’t label it Slow Cinema. And yet, it is.

Slow Cinema is not only about the aesthetics. I’m inclined to say that it has more to do with the time consciousness that is created within certain films. Evolution‘s narrative stretches over ten years. The eleven hours running time give Diaz and the viewer immense time and space to follow a part of history. It is the subject matter that supports slowness, if the characteristics are not foregrounded. A repeated example I give is Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac I & II. It’s over four hours long, but it wasn’t slow at all. It was just long. The story of a nymphomaniac is not exactly a subject matter that promises and invites slowness. On the other hand, if you follow a family, and record their history over a period of ten years, then this is bound to be slow.

I’m obviously walking right into the trap here, because my argument could be read this way: only long films can be slow. This isn’t the case. Again, I would like to point to the time consciousness. This is not only achieved by time itself (via long-takes or length of films). It also comes with subject matter, and this does not only involve the mundane, even though critics of Slow Cinema make us believe this. Diaz is a good example of this. His films are not about the mundane at all. You will not find someone staring out the window for ages, as is the case in Béla Tarr’s films. You will not find yourself watching a character on the loo until his/her bladder is totally emptied, as is the case in Tsai Ming-liang’s films. You will not find characters traveling without doing anything else, as is the case in Lisandro Alonso’s films.

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None of those characters have something to do. They are waiting for something to happen. In Diaz’s films, something has happened already, and the characters react to it. They’re set in motion by an event, often a not very mundane event – we’re speaking of torture, for instance, or rape. But they are in motion, and they have been put into exceptional circumstances. The time consciousness here comes from the way Diaz treats the psychological development of the characters. Take Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012); repetitive monologues, degrading mental state, increasingly fading memory – time passes. In Encantos, Hamin shows more and more repercussions of the torture and persecution he had to endure.

Trauma is a very good subject matter for Slow Cinema, actually, as I argue in my doctoral thesis. Trauma Cinema, as it is defined by scholars, is usually characterised by flashbacks, rapid editing, shaky camera movements, etc Given these characteristics, Trauma Cinema cannot be slow. But trauma is slow. It is slow in its onslaught and in its development. The healing process is slow, too. This is where Diaz’s “time consciousness” and Evolution comes in. Despite its aesthetics, it is creating a sense of slowness by focusing on the development of trauma, not only in a single character, but in a whole family, and in extension an entire society. These things do not appear in a blink. They take time. In Evolution, it takes eleven hours.

Slow – Sascha Seifert (2013)

A film about snails – perhaps the most appropriate slow film you can imagine. Though I still think that a film about sloths, those beloved lazy animals that come down from their trees only once a week, would be an even better choice. We shall see what the future brings.

Slow is nothing more than a ninety-minute film about snails. It is a non-narrative film made entirely for contemplation. This is reinforced by the different sections within the film, which are introduced by Buddhist sayings. You’re not meant to do anything but watch. The film was shot in the Stuttgart Stadtpark, so a very usual environment with a very usual protagonist. But we would not stop to watch a snail for ninety minutes. In fact, we would likely not even notice the snails snailing from A to B. Life is too fast these days. The last thing people want is starring at a snail.

Truth is, there is some fascinating footage in the film, which, for me, triggered questions as to the life, anatomy etc of snails. The film made me curious, and made me realise that I had little idea of such a “basic” animal we all used to tease when we were little by touching – as we know now, now that we’re grown-ups – right into their eyes (poor things!).

Anyway, Slow is a nice meditation, and a nice argumentation between speed and slowness. It is also something that very much resonates with the concept of Slow Art, which asks you to slow down and look at things you usually walk past without noticing them. In some parts this works nicely in Slow. In others, I found the approach rather disappointing. This may sound like a paradox, but I stick to my belief that the film is too fast. It has little to do with the overall length. Even ninety minutes can feel exceptionally long. This reminds me of my first Lisandro Alonso film, Los Muertos, which was something like eighty minutes and I almost fell asleep.

The main problem with Slow is that the camera / editing work doesn’t do the subject matter justice. There is only one shot throughout the film that is a real long-take, which captured the slowness of a snail properly. All the other takes, while still longer than the average in popular cinema, were too short to give you enough time for contemplation. The editing work was just too visible. I wondered why a lot of the snaily scenes had to be cut. You could have easily waited until the snail was done with whatever it was doing, and then cut to another scene.

Unfortunately, it felt more as if Sascha Seifert wanted to show as much as possible of the snails, so he even cut repeatedly in order to show a snail from different angles. For me, it disrupted the process of contemplation. You cannot contemplate a scene if the director cuts it away from you. A film about snails needs long-takes à la Béla Tarr or Lav Diaz, a director who really has patience and the will to challenge the audience. Don’t get me wrong, Seifert is doing it here, but I wishes he would have pushed his concept a bit more to get to the very essence of slow-filmmaking.

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!?

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)

Day 24 – Surprise (me)

I finish this year’s advent calendar with a self-experiment in slow-filmmaking. It’s one thing to watch slow films all the time. But as I was to find out, it’s an entirely different matter to sit behind the camera and keep quiet for only five minutes just so that you don’t ruin the sound. It was fun to do, though, and I enjoyed it. You can find the video at the bottom of today’s entry.

The last 23 days have taken me to many countries. I was in Argentina with Lisandro Alonso, and in Mexico with Nicolas Pereda. I was in imaginative, historical spaces with Albert Serra, and in dark and evils spaces with Béla Tarr. I found myself in cramped apartments in China, in vast spaces of Turkish forests. I was in Japan, Iran and Sweden. Oh, and not to forget, I joined a couple of monks in France. The films I watched were a glimpse of suffering in the Philippines, of longing in Taiwan, of past memories in Thailand.

Over 37 hours of slow film. I cannot deny that it became difficult towards the end to find words for the films. Watching a slow film is, I find, an entirely different experience. Slow films really take you on a journey. You spend so much time with the characters that you feel as though you have been through what they have been through in two hours.

It was a great idea, though. It is one thing to watch a slow film here and there. It is a wholly different matter if you watch 23 films in a row. It gave me a real grasp of what Slow Cinema is about, how many nuances there are, what themes they actually tackle, and how similar and yet different the filmmakers are in their approaches.

I hope you enjoyed the excursion into slowness. This blog will now return to the usual weekly or fortnightly posts, and film comments whenever I’m lucky enough to find a diamond somewhere.

Merry Christmas!

Day 19 – Liverpool (Alonso)

I reviewed Alonso’s Los Muertos earlier this month. Liverpool is my third Alonso film, and I have the feeling that his filmmaking has slightly changed since he made his first feature film. Liverpool is a slow film, but it has, especially for my interests, some quite interesting differences to, say, La Libertad.

In particular the beginning, which shows Farrel, a merchant sailor, on a cargo ship, going about his day-to-day activities. The film frames are extremely tight. There is not left of the emptiness Alonso highlighted in his “landscape” slow films. The tightness of the frames has an impact on the reading time of the frame. There is so much to see, a lot of small details, that time flies past and it doesn’t feel slow at all. I wondered whether Alonso had changed his style completely, but he hasn’t really.

Liverpool (2008), Lisandro Alonso
Liverpool (2008), Lisandro Alonso

A different set-up, with a tighter framing, makes a huge difference. In general, this isn’t a film which shows the protagonist as being connected to his natural surroundings. Many scenes are set indoors. It’s often dark and cramped. There appears to be little (natural) freedom for Farrel. In fact, Farrel isn’t free at all. For the first time in years, he’s back in his home town. He’s known there for leaving everything and everyone behind, especially his mother and, I believe, his daughter (there’s no explicit confirmation for this in the film). He wanted to see whether his mother was still alive. She is, but Farrel acts as though he feels a burden on his shoulder and leaves quickly.

What I also took as an interesting novelty in this film is the theme of acoustic stress, which is evoked several times. Acoustic stress for the viewer. It reminds me of Tarr’s work, especially Werckmeister Harmonies (2000). In Liverpool the acoustic stress is caused, for instance, by the noise of machines on the cargo ship. These noises might be normal, but in the context of Slow Cinema they function as stress as slow films tend to play on silence, or at least quietness. It is a bit like an indirect message: nature is quiet, technology causes all the noise we have to put up with today.

I don’t think, Liverpool is Alonso’s best film. My feeling tells me that there’s something missing. Maybe it is the peaceful nature shots, the silence, which I have grown so accustomed to in the last couple of months. there you go, I’m spoiled.