Is Lav Diaz is literati?

This post wraps up my brief excursion to the far-away lands of China, and my somewhat exotic reading of Slow Cinema. What remains is one last aspect, which I mentioned briefly before: the so-called Three Perfections.

Chinese paintings were more than just paintings. Painting alone wasn’t seen as sufficient for what the painter wanted to deliver. The idea was to enhance the painting by adding layers of meaning to it. These layers were poetry and calligraphy, the type of writing the artists used for poetry. If you come across a traditional painting, you will likely see Chinese symbols drawn on it. This is either a poem or an appreciation by one artist of another, or by an owner of the painting. Calligraphy, poetry, painting – all three were highly influential and acclaimed art forms. They constituted the Three Perfections.

Literati painters were at the forefront of this type of painting. They were scholar artists, and had to be sophisticated in more than just one form of art. They tended to work in black-and-white, and never painted according to someone’s request. They painted when they wanted and what they wanted. And moreover how they wanted. Literati painters kept their freedom, and often lived in solitude in the mountains (compared to court painters). Also, literati paintings would be full of suggestions. They left space for imagination. Paintings were rather open in that case, like open-ended films. Nothing was carved in stone.

It is not so much that I think Lav Diaz is a Chinese literati painter. Not at all. What I do think is that there are parallels that cannot be overlooked. First, Diaz is more than a filmmaker. He writes poetry (his poems are used, for instance, in Death in the Land of Encantos), and he composes the admittedly scarce music of his films. He is a one-man business if you wish. And it’s not only because he has to due to lack of funding for his projects. On the contrary. Diaz is skilled in everything he does. It comes natural to him.

His films (and I exclude Norte here) are not made to measure. He does what he wants, when he wants it, and how he wants it. He produces a piece of art and then it’s up to the audience to decide over approval or rejection. His films are hardly ever straight-forward. They’re metaphorical. He suggests things without making a clear statement. He thus leaves plenty space for the viewer’s imagination. This not only concerns the endings of his films, but the entire films. And don’t forget his preference of black-and-white over colour.

Yes, it looks abstract. But actually, if you think about it, you can see the parallels, and I find the thought of Lav Diaz being a kind of scholar artist an intriguing and interesting one. Perfect food for a slow-obsessed mind.

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