The (in)significance of dialogue

While adding a few paragraphs to my chapter on Lav Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos (2007), it occurred to me that for some slow films the characteristic of “little dialogue and predominant silence” is not exactly applicable. Lav’s films are all in the Slow Cinema canon, but Encantos does not exactly fit to the category of little dialogue. I noticed that while thinking about the films of Béla Tarr.

In Florentina Hubaldo CTE (2012), Diaz uses the juxtaposition of sound and silence as an indicator of trauma. Florentina is repeatedly sold to and raped by men. Her mental capacities are declining. Slowly. Over the course of six hours. Silence plays an important role in the film. Not just absolute silence, as is the case in several scenes. I’m also speaking about the absence of dialogue. Florentina reveals her plight in monologues, but it is – seen over the film’s running time – rare. Besides, it is fragmented due to her suffering from CTE, a degenerative disease of the brain.

In Encantos, trauma is revealed by speech rather than through specific auditory or visual aesthetics. Diaz does use canted angles in many extreme long-shots of the post-apocalyptic scenery in Padang etc, but they’re overall not the main aesthetic he uses to transmit aspects of trauma. Trauma is revealed entirely through dialogue between characters. Just as in Florentina, there is little to no on-screen violence, so it has to come from somewhere else.

Tarr famously said that his films could be understand without dialogue. I still have this line in my head. It’s taken from an interview, which is on the DVD of The Man from London (2007), if I remember right. And it’s true. His films contain dialogue, sometimes very little, but the dialogues do not reveal something that is absolutely essential to comprehending the film. It works with quite a few other films. And then there are slow film directors, who cut the dialogue completely, as is the case with Michelangelo Frammartino’s La Quattro Volte.

The emphasis of slow films is traditionally on contemplation. If you have too much dialogue, which, given the geographical origins of the directors, most likely means a lot of subtitles, it disrupts the slow viewing process. Encantos is one of those films. If you don’t follow all the dialogues in detail, you will miss important parts of the film as everything is revealed by speech. I vaguely remember that there’s a lot in Century of Birthing, too, which is revealed only by dialogue and not through visuals.

Diaz  puts emphasis on the viewer’s listening capacity. And his/her willingness to listen. His films are not contemplative in the usual sense. Stretched over eight hours, dialogue appears to be scarce, true. And yet if we don’t listen to Diaz’s films, we miss most of what he wants us to see. A lovely juxtaposition.

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6 thoughts on “The (in)significance of dialogue

  1. Hi Nadin, I’m following your blog since Yesterday and I find it of absolut interest. Here I found a mention of Le Quattro Volte and I’d like to ask you why that movie is not in your list from A to Z.
    I’m very much interested in the absence of other movies but probably it is because I don’t know yet exactly which are the basic features you assume for “slow cinema”.
    Hope to keep in touch and congratulations.
    Stefano

    • Hi Stefano, many thanks for following my blog! True, Le Quattro Volte is not in my A to Z list and I have honestly no idea why it isn’t. It should be there. Thanks for pointing this out. I will rectify this immediately 🙂 What other films are you thinking of?

      • Hi Nadin, it is a pleasure to speak with you.
        My interest in slow cinema as a specific matter is relatively recent, and I do know exactly as it is seen from a theoretical point of view. So that I am firstly interested in the features you consider basical to determine wheather a movie belongs to “slow cinema” or not. Moreover, I guess that many features of “pure” slow cinema could be found in movies that are not integrally “slow cinema”, and the possible contaminations and intersections are very interesting too.
        So that, coming to the point of other films, I can argue that “Jauja” of L. Alonso isnt slow cinema because of some of its contaminations with “other” elements. “Solaris” by Tarkovskij because basically sci-fi (but “Stalker” is not sci-fi too?).
        I read the reason of your exclusion of Winter Sleep (basically for dialogues), and effectively I do not consider instinctively Ceylan assimilable to Tarr, Diaz, Alonso, Tsai, etc. But I wonder why a movie as “Once upon a time in Anatolia”, or his former movies, with much less dialogue, are for sure not “slow cinema”.
        Here a list coming to my mind of authors whose movies (or some of their movies) may be considered “slow cinema”, in my opinion: Angelopoulos, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Amos Gitai, Jia Zhang-ke, Brillante Mendoza (“Lola”), Roberto Minervini (“Stop the pounding heart”)…
        One last movie: “Gerry” by Gus Van Sant.

        Apologise for my english because I am not used in writing in english frequently! 🙂

        Ciao,
        Stefano

      • Hi Stefano, thank you for your observations. They’re very helpful. The reason for excluding some films and not others is simply that my A to Z is a work in progress. I’m fully aware that Angelopoulos’ films are considered Slow Cinema, but I myself – to my shame – still haven’t seen them, so I will not include them in my list until I have done so (which will be soon; I need them for my thesis, at least one or two). As for “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia” – I watched this film before I even had the idea of setting up this website. I have to admit that I was disappointed by the film, but I didn’t watch it as a slow-film follower at the time. This explains why it’s not in the list. After I watched “Winter Sleep” I decided to re-watch it, and also watch his other films, so you may find one or two Ceylan films in my list in the future. The same is true for “Gerry” – I watched the film long before I even heard of Slow Cinema. So the film slipped through, but I fully agree with you on the matter that it actually belong to the Slow Cinema realm. Again, a revisit is necessary because I tend to like writing about a film first before I include it in my A to Z list. And yes, Hou Hasiao Hsien – his films influenced Lav Diaz’s filmmaking. Again, I’m only aware of bits and pieces and not entire films. I do not want to put something out there I haven’t seen in its entirety myself. Whatever isn’t in the list, I may be aware of, but haven’t necessarily either had a chance to see it, or have seen it before I saw things in the context of cinematic slowness, which then needs a revisit.

        If you want to discuss this more, just drop me an email: theartsofslowcinema@gmail.com

        Best
        Nadin

      • Hi Nadin, thank you for your kind replies. I would be glad to discuss this more and keep in touch, my email stefanosantoli@hotmail.com .
        I understood well the reason of some absence. More important: I want to say that your list, as a work in progress, appears precious as a very good one (I even do not know many directors, whose names I noted [Olaizola, Patino, Rosales, etc.]).
        I assure you that your list is stimulating and shows all its importance for the suggestions it gives with its inclusions. Please consider that I am writing not reputating me (in no way) an “expert” of slow cinema (as you write for yourself, I am now at the beginning of a process of re-consideration – as slow cinema – of what I might seen even years ago).
        So I am writing firstly for learn more: with curiosity, doubts, and willingness to debate!
        Congratulations and speak to you soon, Stefano

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