For parts of my work on Lav Diaz’s Melancholia, I read Richard Armstrong’s Mourning Films (2012). It wasn’t quite as helpful as I thought for the actual content of my chapter, but there was something else that popped up while reading the conclusion of the book, namely the question whether Slow Cinema is Mourning Cinema. At least in part. I’m aware that not all slow films are rather depressing. Albert Serra, for instance, is the comedian amongst slow-film directors, so he wouldn’t fit into this “new” category I have in mind.
What initially put me onto a track of Mourning Cinema was Armstrong’s suggestion that “the mourning film is defined by the obscure play of the seen, the withheld and the opaque” (184). Nowhere is this clearer than in Lav Diaz’s films. This is exactly what I’m interested in and it comes up in pretty much all my chapters; absence. The use of absence and emptiness is a means in Diaz’s films to convey meanings of loss, grief and melancholy. The unseen is as important as the seen in his films. You cannot read his films by looking only at the visible. It is the invisible that brings to the fore the characters’ inner turmoils. Interestingly enough, in mourning films, according to Armstrong, geography plays a role. Mourning as an interior feeling happens against the exterior of the environment. This is perhaps most visible and most accomplished in Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos.
Anyway, this was only the beginning of my thought process. The eureka effect came with the following: “These are slow contemplative works that are dedicated to a narrative progression tied not to active agendas but to a passive process of psychological healing” (186). Now, the psychological healing is relative. Not all slow films that involve some kind of loss depict the following healing process. But the main thing is the deliberate pace of the films and the focus on characters’ psychological development. This is, to me, the main characteristic of Slow Cinema, combined with the aesthetic of the environment mirroring the characters’ state of mind.
Again, not all slow films can be, but a great many films should be seen in this context. In addition to the films of Lav Diaz, there’s, for instance, Yulene Olaizola’s Fogo, an impressive study of loss and the coping mechanisms of people who do not want to give up their livelihood on a small island that decays more and more. There’s Semih Kaplanoglu’s Bal, in which a young boy tries to cope with the loss of his father, the only person that actually made him speak, a person he looked up to. There is, of course, Alexandr Sokurov’s Mother and Son, which I don’t have to describe in detail here as it is such a well-known film. All of Tsai Ming-liang’s films are based on some kind of loss, some kind of grieving for something that is not there. Even Béla Tarr’s films feel eerily empty about loss.
Loss – no matter what kind – is naturally leading to mourning. It does not always entail the death of a person. Death is rather metaphorical and concerns any kind of loss, or sudden absence of something. I would go as far as suggesting that it even concerns the threat of an absence, the threat of loss. This alone can put someone into a state of mourning.
So can Slow Cinema also be termed Mourning Cinema? In some ways, yes. There are more and more types of film that have the exact kind of characteristics as Slow Cinema, without being termed like it. Again, Slow Cinema is just a – sorry to say this – stupid novel description of something that we have seen all the way through film history. So I reckon that all of these slow films fit into other, way more known types of film, which have already received wide attention.