Slow Cinema vs Slow Film

The MeCCSA conference was great in many ways. One of them was that I did not feel alone in questioning the term ‘Slow Cinema’. There is a reason why Harry Tuttle refers to it as ‘Contemplative Cinema’. It is a much more open term, which does not reduce the films to the apparent slowness. However, in the majority of writings, Slow Cinema is nevertheless very much in use. This makes it sometimes difficult for me to write my thesis, because I have to position my work somewhere (and it has to be SC as Lav Diaz is generally included in this category) while at the same time trying my best not to use the term all too much. Simply because it is inadequate, and I do not really want to become a Slow Cinema expert. I merely try to write a thesis on the aesthetics of Diaz’s films.

Anyway, I received very good feedback on my paper, which I’m glad about. And I’m even happier about one question I was asked after my presentation: “Can you explain the difference between Slow Cinema and slow film?”

If someone who has written on SC before reads this, I would like to direct this question to him or her. It’s one of the things that keep bugging me about the term. The question derived from my statement that there are a lot more ‘slow’ films out there, but there’s only a handful of films and filmmakers included in the category of Slow Cinema. This is not exactly an assumption. It is a fact. So why do Romney et al focus on these specific films and filmmakers?

The question is a good one, and I do not have an answer to this. It merely highlights the limits of the term. A friend of mine is writing a thesis on the effects of slowness in Romanian cinema. I’m familiar with a few films, and I can say for sure that they appear slow. The woman who asked me the question referred to a Spanish film from the 1990s, which she was sure about was slow, but was never ‘Slow Cinema’. You could argue that the film was made too early. The term was only coined in the early 2000s. However, there are nevertheless contemporary slow films out there which are never discussed in critical writings of Slow Cinema. Beyond the Hills is one of them.

I have two vague suggestions here. First, slow films which are not included in the Slow Cinema category were or are made in countries, which we see as ‘slower’ as our extremely capitalist countries, which are focused on profit and time-saving. We only need to shift our attention to Eastern Europe. It is not very fair, but we humans have the habit of comparing A and B in order to make sense of things. With respect to those countries, we predominantly see them as “backwards”, a horrible term, but I can’t come up with a more adequate one that conveys the same message. I guess what happens is that critics see this kind of film output as ‘normal’ for this region and don’t bother taking it further. They focus on those slow films that are produced predominantly in high-speed countries.

Second, critics may have attempted to narrow down the field of ‘slow film’ by focusing on specific aesthetics. I, for my part, would say that those films that are Slow Cinema are perhaps more arty. They’re highly photographic, even painterly. But then again, this does not apply to all Slow Cinema films. I wouldn’t include Lisandro Alonso in the arty Slow Cinema category. However, he is, apparently, a Slow Cinema filmmaker.

I guess that critics wanted to make it easier by grouping filmmakers into one category. Instead, they have made it more complicated and confusing. I do not have a straightforward answer to the question above, but I will keep thinking about it.

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