Mainstream Slow Cinema

Two terms that do not go together. I’m well aware of this. But a thought occurred to me last night, which, to be honest, has been in the back of my head for a while now.

Slow Cinema is not as invisible anymore as it had been. With the help of a large amount of bloggers, the phenomenon has been put into our awareness. Thanks to those writings, we are now aware of main players like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tsai Ming-liang, Albert Serra and others. If there’s anything I learned during the initial stage of my research then it’s the fact that these directors are Slow Cinema. That’s it. There is a set list of directors who have become incredibly famous over the last few years. If something does get written on Slow Cinema, then it’s on one of those directors. In the realm of Slow Cinema, they are big names. The biggest amongst the big names is perhaps Béla Tarr.

With Nick James’ comment that the era of Slow Cinema has come to an end, I have realised that there is little flexibility in the field. We anticipate and focus on new films by famous slow-film directors. I have quite a substantial, and actually incomplete list of work that has been done on the big names. Slowly but surely, they even attract book publication, as is the case with Tsai, Tarr, Apichatpong and now even Serra.

The flipside of all this is that we miss development in the field. I miss someone who goes beyond the usual. Don’t get me wrong, I love the films of the directors mentioned here. But I do wonder whether we do ourselves and Slow Cinema a favour by retaining the focus on those who are already famous in their own way. Have Tsai, Apichatpong, Tarr, Reygadas, and Serra not become extremely popular in the last few years? Can we not describe them as the mainstream of Slow Cinema?

Slow Cinema was kind of seen as a phenomenon of the first decade of the 2000s. I wonder whether there’s anyone trying to trace the next generation (apart from me). I have a problem with the term Slow Cinema and its recent developments, and we may want to branch it out into more specific kinds of Slow Cinema.

For once, directors begin to make use of special effects, which wasn’t in the original concept lay film critics have compiled. Slow films were simply “natural”, and not manipulated. Reygadas’ special effects in Post Tenebras Lux are exemplary here. I have also mentioned in an earlier post that Apichatpong’s Mekong Hotel questions a few characteristics as well by including more dialogue, and more music; elements that speed up the experienced pace of the film. In a clip from Tsai’s new film Stray Dogs, the surrounding looks pretty crowded to me. It still feels slow, but compared to his other films, the frames appear crowded, the action in the background seems hectic. There are certain developments in the films of known slow-film directors away from their usual type of filmmaking they became famous with, which isn’t bad. But it makes people believe that Slow Cinema is coming to an end.

Which, of course, it isn’t. Here’s a wonderful discovery of a new generation of Slow Cinema: Yulene Olaizola. Her two feature films are what Slow Cinema originally started off with. Her first feature, Artificial Paradise (2011), was funded by the Hubert Bals Fund. Hear next feature, Fogo (2012), was screened at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes last year. Fogo reminded me of The Nine Muses somehow. But anyway, there has basically been nothing written about her and her films. Despite her screening at Cannes. Do critics deliberately ignore new slow films? These two films are so obviously Slow Cinema that I’m surprised that no one has picked up on it. They’re slow, set in rural areas, use little dialogue, focus on only a handful of characters, they’re painterly (that’s for me!), they depict the mundane, the everyday, etc You can tick all the boxes, if you want to tick them.

But, you can achieve everything if you just want to. So if you want the era of Slow Cinema to come to an end, then it is possible by closing your eyes. By not showing an interest in a new generation. By not actively seeking alternatives to the already well-known big names of the phenomenon. And this, for that matter, is easier done than said (yes, I intend this to be the wrong way around).

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