Day 6 – Colossal Youth (Costa)

I’m back on the European continent, after having made (film) trips to Mexico, the Philippines and China. I’m in Portugal this time, the home of filmmaker Pedro Costa. It is only the second of his films I have seen. The first one was Bones (1997), which I couldn’t quite get through at the time. I can now see, though, what type of slow-film director Costa is.

Colossal Youth tells the story of Ventura, an immigrant in his 70s, who, like many other immigrants, has been relocated to a new housing estate near Lisbon. He appears to live in the past. The present is a confusing structure he cannot seem to handle. He is confused as to where he really lives, I believe: past? Present? In his old slum? In the new estate? For me he is a walking ghost.

Colossal Youth (2006), Pedro Costa
Colossal Youth (2006), Pedro Costa

Similar to Nicolas Pereda from Mexico, Costa merges documentary and fiction. It is often difficult to tell what is scripted and what isn’t. Sometimes there is the strong sense that the camera simply records without the interpretation of the filmmaker. At other times, you can feel the presence of someone behind the camera.

First of all, very obvious, Costa is not a filmmaker who assigns a great role to outdoor spaces, especially to landscapes. This film in particular is set mainly indoors. In parts, it reminds me of the look of Oxhide I, in that we spend a considerable amount of time in very dark spaces, and the only light is of somewhat greenish colour.

There is, however, and interesting contrast in the film. As I already mentioned, Ventura is relocated to a new housing estate. Both the slums and the estate have their own set of lighting and colours. Ventura moves freely between both in order to see people he knows. We therefore switch between darkness (the slums) and brightness (the new estate). While the changing colour scheme seems to be a natural thing – and indeed, it comes in handy – I wonder whether there is a subtle message behind it.

Colossal Youth (2006), Pedro Costa
Colossal Youth (2006), Pedro Costa

I never got the feeling that Ventura feels very comfortable in his new surrounding. It doesn’t mean that I preferred him being and remaining in the slum. But somehow, he appeared to me more natural in his behaviour. So perhaps, while the above mentioned brightness is natural and most likely not intended, we could say that the brightness – the white sterile walls and the bright light – can function as an indicator of where Ventura feels more himself. I’m really not sure about this. It’s merely an idea.

Costa, to my mind, is the only slow-film director who picks up the issue of immigration of former colonised to the countries of their colonisers, in this case Portugal. Portugal is by far not the only country that faces this issue. France has seen similar waves of immigrants, but curiously enough they never appear in film, or not in a way that does not make the audience loath them (moral panics anyone?). There are few films that handle this issue in a sensitive manner, and Costa’s Colossal Youth is one of them.

What he has in common with other slow-film directors is the depiction of loss and poverty. I pointed out earlier that these two are of exceptional significance in Slow Cinema. And his films, too, are in one way or another connected to the Third World, something I also mentioned briefly earlier. Costa is very different (from the filmmakers I study), but he nonetheless shares many characteristics. The themes of poverty and loss are my main interest here. Somehow I think that Tsai Ming-liang and Albert Serra are the only two filmmakers who add a bit of humour to their slow films. Slow Cinema appears to be a very sad film genre!

Day 5 – Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (Diaz)

I admit that I have cheated a bit. I didn’t watch the whole six hours in one go. Not the second time. I did so the first time, though. I watched it at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year. So while I am cheating, I’m not really. This film happened to become a very convenient subject for today’s blog. I had to re-watch it for the chapter I’m working on.

Florentina Hubaldo CTE (2012) precedes Norte (2013), and is by all means a Lav Diaz film; shot in black-and-white, giving his characters space and time to develop in their own pace, and dealing with controversial issues that have arisen in the context of colonialism and dictatorship in the Philippines. There is a lot you can say about the film. I found it to be his most complex, and most powerful film to date.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, Lav Diaz

In short, Florentina tells the story of a young woman of the same name who goes through horrific atrocities committed by her father, and the men he sells her to. She is repeatedly raped and beaten. She has developed CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative condition of the brain, which – as we can see in the film – causes memory loss and severe headaches, and leads to a very slow death. Florentina does have a second narrative strand, which merges with the first around four hours into the film, but the film is nevertheless about Florentina, and her daughter Lolita, or Loleng (her nickname).

Cinematically, I find it significant that Diaz never shows the atrocities. Here and there he shows Florentina’s father being rough on her, but he shows neither the rapes nor the beatings. Everything happens off-screen. The viewer is therefore forced to listen to screams and cries of help. It is a hugely effective method of filmmaking in this case. The uncertainty of what is really happening behind the walls to Florentina is an excruciating pain for the viewer, who is taken on a very intimate journey with a woman who goes through hell.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, Lav Diaz

There is also an interesting dichotomy between sound and silence in the film, with silence being predominant in her dream-like states, whenever she sees The Giants, which have a historical meaning. But if I start going into this, this entry will never find a worthy ending. So instead, I want to briefly point to the fact that Florentina is a metaphor. The film is not just about an individual. The young woman functions as an example for the whole of Philippine society. In a Q&A that followed the screening at the EIFF last year, Diaz spoke about the effects of colonialism and dictatorships on today’s society. He put Florentina as an individual on the same level as Philippine society. CTE is functions as a drastic and explicit illustration of what colonialism can do to nations.

The repeated maltreatment by Spanish, American, British and Japanese colonisers took its toll on the people. Diaz equated this with the repeated beatings Florentina suffers in the film. Indeed, “rape” has become a historical term these days. There is the rape of Austria (after the Nazis annexed the country). There is the rape of Jugoslawia, of Nanking in China, etc Rape no longer stands for the human act itself. It has become a metaphor for one country’s maltreatment in war of another country. It is a term, which has come to denote simply “power of one agent over another”, no matter in what form.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, Lav Diaz

So if we think about the treatment of Florentina as an individual, we have to see this in the context of Philippine history (which is dark, I’ve read about it). It is a clever cinematic construct. It criticises predominantly Western nations for getting rid of Philippine culture, and often, Philippine dignity, without being very explicit about it. The film is told through a metaphor, and it is the only slow film I know of that does this in such a successful manner.

Day 4 – Daughter…Father…Daughter (Rezaee)

Day four allowed me to leave the cramped Chinese apartment. Instead I moved to an era of Iran I thought never existed. If anything, we do not imagine Iran to be country of magnificent landscapes. Panahbarkhoda Rezaee’s film Daughter…Father…Daughter (2011) displays this strikingly.

The film is exactly what I call Slow Cinema; a slow narrative film with striking landscapes in the background, and a cinematographer who definitely has a photographic eye. I was debating with myself how best to write about this film, and I’m keen on showing you the beauty rather than writing about it. So this will be fairly short today.

Daughter...Father...Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter…Father…Daughter, Rezaee

Daughter… tells the story of three sisters living in a remote area of Iran with their father, whose house functions more or less as a small petrol station for people nearby. He’s old and frail. The economic situation is difficult, the petrol prices are on the rise. The four characters live in utter isolation, and it seems as though the television set they have in the house is the only connection to the outside world. And a small form of entertainment, though we mostly hear the news via an off-screen voice about political and economical turmoils.

Particularly striking in the film is the use of colour, or no colour at all. I’m still not entirely sure how to approach this. Initially I thought that the film was shot in (beautiful!) black-and-white. To me, this is the most wonderful use of black-and-white I have seen so far in a slow film. It is used to great effect especially because we’re in an area that is covered with thick layers of snow. So grayscale works well. However, when we are inside the house, I’m not so sure about the black-and-white anymore. It sometimes looks as if the director has chosen to use a very limited colour palette for indoor shootings. I’m pretty sure that the blanket one of the sister uses while watching TV is of red colour, as dull as the red is.

Interestingly enough, information from DreamLab Films reveal that the film is indeed shot in colour. This means that the director has done a remarkable job with lighting, and I wonder how exactly he has managed this in the middle of nowhere. Rezaee’s new film A Cradle for Mother (2013) premiered at the Moscow International Film Festival in June, and appears to have an anti rely different aesthetics. It may not even be slow. But this one definitely is. And it’s a beauty!

More screenshots:

Daughter...Father...Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter…Father…Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter...Father...Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter…Father…Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter...Father...Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter…Father…Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter...Father...Daughter, Rezaee
Daughter…Father…Daughter, Rezaee

Day 3 – Oxhide I (Jiayin)

On day three, I have thankfully managed to avoid further motion sickness. Although I cannot say that I have moved into a better environment. Quite the opposite actually. After Alamar, a lovely trip to an atoll reef off Mexico, I ended up in a cramped apartment in China.

Oxhide is, to my mind, a strange hybrid of documentary and fiction. I felt unsure what was scripted and what was complete improvisation. In any case, director Liu Jiayin filmed daily life in the apartment she has lived with her parents. I was often surprised at the way Tsai Ming-liang has so far treated everyday life, and thought that he pretty much got the point. However, Jiayin went a step further and I cannot recall a single film that describes our (specifically their) mundane life so well.

There are two points in this film that interested me. The first was the framing. The slow films I study have as their main aesthetic feature a basis of vastness and nature. The landscape plays a major role, if it isn’t a character in itself (which I think it is in most cases). The framing tends to be loose, which is an interesting fact as loose frames are often associated with freedom for the character, but in the majority of slow films the characters are, in fact, trapped.

Oxhide, Liu Jiaying
Oxhide, Liu Jiayin

In Oxhide, the traditional feature tight framing equals pressure and stress on the character is more valid. It is for me the outstanding aesthetic I took away from the screening. The film was claustrophobic, especially over the course of two hours. There was literally no space. Neither for the viewer nor for the characters. Indeed, the father (who’s the director’s real father; she was filming her real family) says at some point “There’s no room to move freely”.

This also accounts for the viewer. It creates a tense atmosphere, also because we are often forced to witness arguments, and because there’s no free space to take our eyes (and therefore our mind) off things, we’re stuck with watching uncomfortably. Another interesting fact in the same context is the lighting. It always seems to be dark in the flat. I can’t remember having seen a single window in the film, which adds to the feeling of imprisonment.

The second significant thing is the theme of poverty and capitalism, which I recognised in quite a few films, especially in those by Lav Diaz. Jiayin’s parents design, make and sell bags made from oxhide. At the beginning of the film, the dad wants Jiayin to get discount advertisements ready on the computer. We see that he reduces the original price for a bag by fifty percent. The discounts bring in money, but he is unhappy about how he, as the maker and designer of the bags, and as the owner of the shop, has lost control over his business. He says at one point “It’s our shop, our bags – and in the end it’s the customers who set the price”.

Jiayin’s mother argues with him about his stubbornness. He wants to get rid of the discounts, while she argues that people just want cheap prices. For the customer, the shop owner or how the products had been made are of little significance. What counts is a cheap price. It matters little whether the shop owner can live off the money he makes with his own creation. She fears the date their rent is due, which tells us that they are indeed in financial trouble once he has removed the discounts.

Oxhide, Liu Jiaying
Oxhide, Liu Jiayin

It is a general theme that is picked up here. This has been developing for a long time, and it is true that more and more traditional craft makers go out of business. People want cheap prices. This is all they care about. This is also the reason why we see repeated accidents in factories, such as the one in Bangladesh this year.

P.S.: Yes, the screenshots are dark, but so is the film. Gives you an idea of how dark it really was!

Day 2 – Alamar (Gonzales-Rubio)

I stick to slow films that make me sea sick. Vivan las Antipodas was the first film, but obviously not the last one to confuse my perception of where the actual horizon in a cinematic frame is. A central focus point. Just something for the purpose of orientation.

The similarities between Antipodas and Alamar don’t stop there. True to the matter, I have pointed out the specific opposition of rural/urban in Antipodas, which is not a dominant theme in the film, but a vital one for my interest. Alamar goes even further, and is, similar to Michela Occhipinti’s Letters from the Desert (2012) a subtle attack at the way we live; in the West, or in urban centres, or in rich countries. Whatever you choose – it is subtly attacked in this lovely and very peaceful tale of a father-son relationship.

The opening of the film tells us in brief about Jorge and Roberta, a couple for three and a half years, parents to son Natan, who got divorced based on, I find, striking “differences”. One aspect is the different perception of reality. In a voiceover, Roberta tells us: “Look at how we live now. He’s in the middle of the jungle in the sea, in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t live here. I would die in a place like this.” Roberta is from Italy. The slow backward life clashes with a modern lifestyle. The product is a divorce; Roberta takes custody of Natan.

Alamar, Pedro Gonzales-Rubio
Alamar, Pedro Gonzales-Rubio

In Alamar, five-year old Natan joins his father for a “holiday trip” to the roots of basic living. Of living with nature. Jorge is keen on teaching his son how to fish, how to scale the fish, how to make a life and enjoy life faraway from modernity and civilisation. Just the way he himself had grown up.

The film is almost entirely set on the sea (hence the sea sickness). We’re either on a boat, or in a hut built on some pillars, surrounded by water. There is water everywhere, and this is the first slow film I have encountered where the sea plays such an important role. The sea stands for freedom, for vastness, for fullness, too. In many ways, what we associate now with urban spaces, especially the fullness and freedom, comes from a very basic life we had before modernity took hold. The use of the sea as a continuous background is thus absolutely vital to the message Gonzales-Rubio wants to deliver.

In one scene, Jorge and his father get dinner ready. They have prepared fish and tortillas. This interesting conversation follows:

Natan: It’s the barracuda, right?

Jorge: Yes, it is. There are the tortillas, please eat.

Natan: I don’t want lobster.

Jorge: There is no lobster. This is barracuda. Eat.

Grandfather: I bet you don’t have that in Italy.

Natan: They don’t go fishing there.

Jorge: They don’t fish, right, son?

Natan: The fish is already bought in Italy.

Alamar, Pedro Gonzales-Rubio
Alamar, Pedro Gonzales-Rubio

There are two points here. First, Natan is illiterate in sea food. He has obviously never learned what the difference between a lobster and a barracuda is. But then, how is he meant to learn this where he lives, and is it really of importance to him? Or to us, in that matter. I remember that I learned different fish species in primary school, but this knowledge is pretty much gone. Do I need it where I live? Not really. It would be an entirely different story, though, if I had to go out fishing for food on my own.

Second, the conversation contains the subtle attack on Western lifestyle/consumerism I mentioned before. People in Italy don’t fish. They go into a supermarket, and buy fish if they want some. Father and grandfather imply that their way of doing things is better.

In general, you get a sense that, while Natan appears hesitant here and there (which I take from his illiteracy in this new world), he seems to enjoy this new place. It’s probably adventurous for him. On the other hand, when he is back in Italy at the end of the film, he appears equally comfortable. I suppose this is the luxury of being little: you adapt pretty quickly to whatever surrounding you’re in.

This film is definitely worth working on in more detail at some other time.

Day 1 – Vivan las Antipodas (Kossakovsky)

With Vivan las Antipodas, Russian director Victor Kossakovsky has created quite a stunning portrait of differences and similarities between different points on Earth. I’m not trying to explain what antipodes are, I wouldn’t be very good at it. Instead, you only get the wikipedia definition:

In geography, the antipodes … of any place on Earth is the point on the Earth’s surface which is diametrically opposite to it.

In his film, Kossakovsky opposes four antipodes that are actually inhabited (most antipodes can be found in oceans as 97% of the planet is covered by water): Argentina and China, Spain and New Zealand, Hawaii and Botswana, and Chile and Russia.

Aesthetically, the film is slow, though I wouldn’t quite categorise it as a part of Slow Cinema the way I study it. This is mainly due to the camera movements, and the fairly widespread use of music, which tends to be traditional to the specific country we are in. If it weren’t for the musical interludes, this film would make a stunning photographic album of wonderful landscape images (I spoke about the effects of music in an earlier post).

Vivan las Antipodas, Kossakovsky
Vivan las Antipodas, Kossakovsky

It would exceed the limit of my usually fairly short entries to cover all four of the antipodes. They are all incredible, and reminded me of how important it is in slow film that the cinematographer has a photographic eye. Without it, I would be less inclined to think a film in a slow-film way.

Anyway, let me comment briefly on one aspect of the film; a decisive and explicit one that stands for slow film as a whole, in particular the films I’m studying. The interest here is the opposition of Entre Rios, a rural area in Argentina, and Shanghai in China. The contrast can’t be more startling. The film opens in Entre Rios. It appears to be in the middle of nowhere. Two men (father and son?) charge people who use their makeshift bridge over a river. They spend their days waiting for cars to come. The few cars that do appear here and there are in a poor state. You get a good idea of the living standards. Also through the images of the bridge and the house the two men appear to live in. Life is slow, even for the viewer.

Until we reach Shanghai, via a strange floating camera movement (that over the course of the entire film made me sea sick). We leave the (slow) rural life behind, and are thrown into a bustling urban space. Fittingly, the first thing we see is a strange upside down scene with cars racing on a motorway. So much for slowness! We are also presented with crammed frames, full of people, bicycles, smog, high-rise buildings.

Vivan las Antipodas (Kossakovsky)
Vivan las Antipodas, Kossakovsky

The contrast can’t be bigger. And as I pointed out, these are important things in my research. The importance of the rural in the evocation of slowness. At the same time, the importance of developing countries for the output of Slow Cinema, whether as depicted subjects, or as filmmaking nations. All this is there in the first 25min. Some of my ideas right there, on screen. Good to see it!

The Side-Effects of Slow Cinema Studies

Out of the blue, my partner wondered this morning whether he was becoming slower in his brains. In the same context, he mentioned his viewing of slow films with me. I had some questions about my development, too, and I may have found the answers right there.

Now, before I go into a bit more detail, I have to be fair and say that I have had a few problems processing particularly fast things in the last couple of years. For those who have briefly checked the other blog I had up for a few weeks, PTSD doesn’t allow me to process information fast. The faster they come, the more angry and the more confused I get. Slow Cinema is bliss in this context.

Putting this aside, though, I have wondered lately whether I wasn’t becoming even slower. When I zap into a comedy show on TV, I have some severe problems sometimes to catch the dialogue. This is perhaps not only due to the speed, with which they speak. It is perhaps also in part due to the reluctance of my ears, which have become lazy. My eyes do all the job. Slow Films have little dialogue, the power often lies in the images themselves. Moreover, I have become so used to reading subtitles that my ears don’t really need to do much anymore.

Snail Brain

It could be that comedy shows are meant to be slightly faster, in speech at least. For entertainment purposes, and jokes don’t work if they come out slow. But I have started to encounter the same problems in what you would call “normal” films as well as in everyday conversations, though the latter really depends. I can have a normal conversation about the weather, but if you try to steer me to something more complex I need a while to think, and to process what’s actually wanted from me. This hasn’t been the case five years ago. I tend to catch snippets nowadays, and then I try to make sense of the few snippets I have heard.

Again, I do not think that my Slow Cinema studies are solely responsible for this, but it surely must have an influence on my thought process. Slowness is meant to slow you down anyway, hence the name. So I’m not complaining at all (remember the hare and the turtle!). What I think becomes the more obvious the longer I study Slow Cinema (and my brains’ reaction to it) is how fast the world around me really is. We go with the flow, we have grown into it from day one we joined the others on this planet. Yet you only ever realise that you’re on the high-speed lane when you attempt to slow down and nothing or no one is following you anymore.
If there were scientists who are interested in the effects of slowness on our sensory perceptions (maybe even looking into the changes in our brains), I’d be happy to volunteer as a guinea pig. It makes me really curious. Well, the curiosity is increasing slowly, obviously.

Slow Film Advent Calendar

It’s almost Christmas time, and this blog had its first (slow) anniversary yesterday. On 25 November 2012, I published the first (very brief) entry. I would have never imagined this blog to develop in the way it has done so far, and I’m grateful that some of my readers have contacted me to discuss Slow Cinema as a concept, or even just to recommend slow films.

I will go through Christmas time in the usual way. From 1 December, I will open one (imaginary) door of my (imaginary) advent calendar. Twenty-four doors. And twenty-four slow films. I’ll be creating my very own Slow Cinema Advent Calendar.

Merry Slow Christmas!

Every day, I will publish a brief comment on the film I have watched on the day; something about aesthetics, or the content of the film. Some aspect that is perhaps worth looking at in more detail.

Finding slow films is by all means a slow matter, so I will obviously re-watch quite a few films I know already. But I think this is a good thing, because the images of films tend to become vague once you fill up your head with more and more films.

However, I’m open for suggestions. Very open, to be honest. If you have a slow film in mind, I should really get my hands on, please let me know in the comments, or email me: theartsofslowcinema@gmail.com

I only have one request: Please do not recommend 24 films that last nine hours or longer. I do have a life outside Slow Cinema 🙂

Let’s go people!

Bestiaire (Denis Coté)

Thanks to a reader of my blog, who made me aware of another slow film, I had the chance to dive into a hugely photographic piece of cinema. A while ago, I wrote a short post on Bovines by Emmanuel Gras. It is a film without dialogue. Just pure beauty. And cows. It traces the often overlooked lives of cows throughout the four seasons. It still is the most peaceful slow film I know.

Bestiaire by Canadian filmmaker Denis Coté is not much different at first sight. It is about (wild) animals in Parc Safari in Quebec (“Africa in the Heart of Canada”). Again, the changing seasons play an interesting role. Bestiary, or The Book of Beasts, was a medieval collection of physical descriptions of animals, often written in such a way as to highlight an animal’s special meaning or position in the world.

Bestiaire, Denis Coté

This seemingly little detail is in fact very significant. The animals we see in the film – horses, giraffes, bears, zebras – have been deprived of their special meaning in the world. They are all the same. They are an object of attraction for both the employees, and the tourists, who flock to the park in spring and summer.

They have been deprived of their special meaning because they have been put into captivity, where they cannot be the animals they really are. They cannot be wild. In winter, especially, when the animals are put into indoor shelters, we see, for example, zebras wanting to break out of their cage. Thus, the first half of the film is a bit depressing if you have a heart for animals.

Bestiaire, Denis Coté

The very fact that tigers, zebras and ostriches have lost their special meaning by having been put into captivity, can perhaps be seen as a concept for “subjects” (i.e. humans) in Slow Cinema as a whole. Are the characters still “special” and “distinct”? Are they not all in the same cage, the cage of poverty, oppression? The cage of loneliness and emptiness? Does it then really matter where the characters come from (geographically)? Just a thought…

Aesthetically, Bestiaire is stunning, though. It feels like a photo album from time to time. Coté is certainly one of those filmmakers with an incredible eye for frame composition. The camera is always static, as is often the case in Slow Cinema. I suppose that many shots happened by pure chance because it looked as if Coté had put the camera somewhere and had hoped that an animal or two would cross the frame. So while Coté certainly tried to set up the camera in such a way that he could get interesting shots, it is not all due to his work as director / cinematographer. He was very much dependent on the movements of the animals. I therefore see Bestiaire is a collaboration of man and beast, rather than “a film by Denis Coté” alone.

Bestiaire, Denis Coté

Watching Bestiaire might make you think that Coté is a slow-film director. In fact, he is, but his films are less Slow Cinema. I watched his film Curling yesterday, and though it did start off like a Slow Cinema film with regards to its aesthetics (long-take, static camera, medium or long shots etc), Coté moved away from those aesthetics halfway through the film, which confused me a bit. I don’t think there was anything in the narrative that could have asked for it, but then, don’t question a director’s aesthetic choices. You’re wrong about it more often than not.

Literally Distant

Sometimes you only have to be patient. Patience is a virtue, and without patience you can’t endure a slow film. Or waiting for a slow film, for that matter. I was therefore chuffed when I got the chance to see Zhengfan Yang’s Distant a lot sooner than I had expected.

The film consists of 13 takes, spread over 88 minutes. It consist of 13 different scenes in 13 different settings. In a way, I find, they tell 13 different (small) stories, but they are stories that are nevertheless somehow connected. You can feel it, though you cannot be entirely sure because you cannot see everything.

Distant, Zhengfan Yang

Distant takes the characteristics of Slow Cinema very literal and makes them explicit, but actually so explicit that I only realised how all the features came together at the end of the film. A clever tactic, and an entirely new challenge for me as a viewer. I’m very used to see the same characteristics over and over again. It’s lovely to see something in a different context.

Anyway, the title of the film is key to the entire film, and builds up on what I mentioned previously: the absence of intimacy between film and viewer, between character and viewer, and also between the director and the characters.

In some ways, Distant can be frustrating to watch if you are a viewer who wants to see everything. All scenes are shot in extreme long shots. The surroundings (of man) are more prominent, i.e. take a greater part of the frame, than the actual characters. Whether we are at a beach, where we can see a man playing with his dog, or whether we are at a bus station, where people wait for the next bus – we have no access to them.

The little gestures they make have to be guessed if one really wants to know what they’re up to. Facial expressions are even less visible than in other slow films I know (the complete opposite to Tsai Ming-liang’s Visage). The film teaches you to give up on the usual longing for seeing everything, more so than other slow films. The surroundings, and therefore the relationship between the characters and their habitat, are the feature to look out for and to study in more detail. In classical (narrative) cinema, films are human-centred. Distant is a great example that Slow Cinema, while following human subjects, moves beyond this, and puts human subjects into their social, political, and geographical context – literally. It puts into perspective that humans shape their surroundings, and vice versa. Especially the latter plays an important role in Slow Cinema.

Distant, Zhengfan Yang

Distant has an additional layer to all this. It is not only about the viewer and the director being distant from the characters, achieved by long shots. The characters are also distant to one another, which again, symbolises what I have established earlier: loneliness amongst characters is one of the many key features of Slow Cinema, and Yang’s film makes it very explicit.

All characters are alone. They do not seem to be with anybody. In one scene, there is a newly-wed couple, but the bride seems to be unhappy. She walks into nothingness, then she returns, walks closer to the camera. She then drops her flowers onto the ground, and walks off towards the horizon. She distances herself from the guests, from the photographer, and most importantly, from her husband, who all continue to celebrate.

An old man (who strongly reminded me of Tsai Ming-liang’s Walker in some ways, especially when he began to walk in a subway tunnel, whose framing brings Tsai’s compositions to mind) collapses on the pavement. No one helps him. People walk past. Cars drive past. There is no sign of compassion, or a willingness to help. As with all other characters, he is on his own. And he possibly dies on his own.

What I couldn’t quite make out was the reason for using predominantly male characters. This reminded me somewhat of Japan, where women and men grow apart from each other more and more. Loneliness seems to prevail over intimacy. I know that Japan isn’t China, but I couldn’t help the association. There’s too much loneliness in the world! (Perhaps SC is an advocate for turning this around…or maybe I’m wrong, and read too much into it, which is the more obvious possibility.)