Los Ausentes – Nicolas Pereda (2014)

Knowing Nicolas Pereda’s early work, I’d be inclined to say that his medium long film Los Ausentes marks a new era in his filmmaking. The trailer already looked haunting and different from Pereda’s usual filmmaking. The colour palette is the same, the actors have the same aura around them. And yet, and yet…

Los Ausentes is, first of all, about an old, fragile man who loses his house near the beach. I assume he has lived there all his life, so loss (absence) is at the heart of Pereda’s film. It’s the very core of it, and Pereda perfects his usual aesthetics in order to transmit this feeling of loss to the viewer. Los Ausentes stands out in Pereda’s work because of its camera work. The director has always favoured long-takes, temps mort, and a very minimalist storytelling. But this film goes a bit further. In fact, it reminded me strongly on the films of Béla Tarr and the fascinating work by cinematographer Fred Kelemen (who himself made films, amongst them Krisana).

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Pereda uses a kind of independent camera, which I have marvelled upon when I saw Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies (2000). This is also when I first understood Daniel Frampton’s filmind, film as thinking independently. If you put Los Ausentes and Werckmeister next to each other, you can see that they both make use of an independent camera. The camera is not really following the protagonist, unless the character is walking down a road. The camera has its own mind and moves to whatever place or whatever action it would like to record.

I haven’t seen it to such an extent in Pereda’s previous films. I even wonder whether it is an homage to Tarr. The beginning must be at least a very obvious wink, starting with a medium shot of a cow facing us. And then, slowly, very slowly, the camera zooms out and reveals first some kind of structure, which then turns out to be a window frame. The camera zooms further out, very smoothly, totally beautifully, and reveals the old man sitting at a table eating. If faithful Tarr-viewers are not reminded of the famous opening scene in Damnation or the beginning of The Man from London, I don’t know what those people have done with their lives 🙂

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In any case, this independent camera transmits the film’s idea of loss, of the absent, fabulously. It feels as though there was a ghost walking around, looking at things or moving places. At times, we see the protagonists. At others, we don’t. But nevertheless, we can feel an eerie presence. There is someone there with us, but who is it? Los Ausentes is a perfect example of how aesthetics can convey absence. I had come across this very subject in my research on the films of Lav Diaz, but Diaz is doing this in a very different way. This independent camera movement also feeds well into the idea of the fragile, old man losing his sanity. Again, this is a theme that pops up comparatively often in slow films, and it is interesting to see how directors deal with this differently.

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When I saw the old man standing somewhere in the woods, with his skinny back towards me, I wasn’t quite sure whether what I saw was supposed to be real, or whether Pereda wanted me to believe it was a dream. There’s only ambient sound, and because I was in a state of dreaming already because of the superb camera work, I wasn’t so sure anymore what I was seeing or what I was asked to believe. This became even more difficult when the old man’s younger self appeared and it wasn’t clear anymore what happened when and where.

I began to wonder whether the title Los Ausentes applied to more than just the film, because in the end, you do lose yourself in the film. You might be physically present when you watch the film, but where are you mentally? Are you home? In the cinema? In an imagined Mexico? In a dream? In real life? I would say that Los Ausentes is Pereda’s strongest film. As I said before, it looks like his previous films but it feels very different. The combination of narrative and aesthetics is just right, perfect even, and I think that the length of the film – medium length – helps to keep the film focused. It feels like Pereda’s most polished film and I wonder where he will go from here. I hope that we will see more of this!

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The Art(s) of Slow Cinema Trailer N° 1

A week after I set up the crowdfunding campaign for The Art(s) of Slow Cinema VoD platform, I have put together a first showreel. This trailer contains extracts of five films already chosen for the platform. This will give you a first impression of the material I have chosen, but more is to come.

Please consider helping out, and helping me to make this VoD platform happen.

https://www.gofundme.com/theartofslowcinema

Another Year – Another Festival

I’m not posting those things very often, but I’m delighted about the success of the slow film that is on the top of my list for DVD distribution; Another Year by Shengze Zhu. I wrote an entry about it not so long ago, a stunning three-hour long film about a Chinese migrant family eating. Well, in fact, the film is about much more and I believe this is the reason for its success. Like many other slow films that have their place on this website, Another Year uses stark simplicity in order to tell stories about the complexities of life.

Shengze’s film has been to several festivals, and the success story continues to impress. Today in exactly a month, on 26 June, the film will have its UK premiere (very important!) at the Open City Documentary Festival in London. And, best of all, the film is a Grand Jury Award nominee. Congratulations, Shengze!

And if you’re in London on 26 June, please do see the film at Open City Documentary Festival! They have more than only Another Year. The programme looks generally pretty slow. They also show Dead Slow Ahead, a film I’m still waiting to see. So go, go, go!

Please help – The Art(s) of Slow Cinema VoD

As part of the set up of the forthcoming The Art(s) of Slow Cinema VoD platform, I have started a crowdfunding campaign, which seeks to cover current labour costs and costs of the server, payment provider and content delivery network. Every small contribution helps. And you even get a voucher code for a curated theme of your choice! 🙂

Please spread the message. Please consider donating. Please make this platform happen!

On behalf of the involved artists, thank you, thank you, and thank you.

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Slow Cinema VoD – Update (3)

Today, I would like to list the directors whose works I have chosen for The Art(s) of Slow Cinema VoD. These directors have submitted their films after the first call for films, or I have asked them whether they’d be interested in the project. That these names appear here today does not mean that the Call for Films is now over. It remains an open call. I simply want to announce the first batch of participants.

Yesterday, I finished watching the submissions. For some films, I only needed to see the first frame and my decision was clear. For others, I had to let the film do its work on me before I could decide whether it would be good to include it or not. From the submissions I have received since January, I have chosen the majority. Let me give you the names now before I continue with my thoughts on them:

Simo Ezoubeiri, Sebastian Cordes, Yulene Olaizola, Michela Occhipinti*, Félix Dufour-Laperrière, Tito Molina, Felipe Guerrero, Zhengfan Yang, Homer Etminani, Pablo Lamar*, Christos Gkotsis, Martin Meija, Liryc de la Cruz, Shengze Zhu, Yotam Ben-David, Miguel Hilari, Jaime Grijalba, Allison Chhorn, José Fernandes, Diego Amando Moreno Garza, Jenni Olson, Martynas Kundrotas, Blaz Kutin, Mark John Ostrowski, Sorayos Prapapan, Yarr Zabratski, Peter Sant, Oren Contrell, Mirac Atabey, Dina Yanni, Nandan Rado, Kevin Pontuti, Scott Barley, Mikel Guillen, Lois Patino*, Tiara Kristiningtyas*, Panahbarkhoda Rezaee*, Salvatore Insana, Manjeet S. Gill, Ion Indolean, Yefim Tovbis, Regina Danino, Krishnendu Sarkar, Karel Tuytschaever.

Those names which are labelled with a stars are not 100% certain yet. I’m trying my best to chase up the directors (or find them!), but I haven’t yet been successful. If you can help in any way, please let me know.

Some filmmakers have submitted more than one film. There is a great mixture of amateurs and “professional” filmmakers. I have an almost even number of feature and short films, which is fantastic. I thought that I would receive more short films than anything else, but this is not the case.

The chosen films are either made in, or the directors come from the following countries:

Mexico, USA, Canada, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, Belgium, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, UK, Turkey, Austria, Morocco, Australia, India, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Thailand. 

Unfortunately, there is only one film from Africa so far, but I’m nonetheless proud that the Call for Films has attracted films from all continents. I had always hoped this would be a global platform. Obviously, I couldn’t influence the film submissions. Yet there was the risk that I would end up with films from predominantly Western countries. Another fear which was unfounded. South America is very strong, a fact I like most. I’ve always had a strong feeling that there are plenty slow films being made in South American countries. I have three films from Mexico so far. Not a surprise, if I see the countries general output of good arthouse cinema.

This morning, I set up a Facebook group for all directors who have been chosen from the first batch of submissions. From now on, there will be a direct and quick contact between me and them regarding the project development. New members will be added as we go along with the project.

One final point, we have Cinéma Fragile on board, a French film collective focusing on film haikus. Their films are freely available on Vimeo. They will remain free, but The Art(s) of Slow Cinema VoD will show them, too.

Any questions? Any more films? Please contact me!

Edit: You can now donate to our crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe.

Slow Cinema VoD – Update (2)

Here’s a brief update on how things stand with the upcoming The Art(s) of Slow Cinema VoD platform.

Work is going on at three fronts at the moment. First of all, I’ve been trying to find a decent payment provider, whose HQ is in Europe (for legal reasons) and who doesn’t take extortionate commissions on transactions. There are some who only accept credit cards which wouldn’t be useful. Others operate only in certain countries, or on certain continents. At the moment, we’re looking at a Dutch and a Danish company. They both sound good, though the latter only deals with payments from within Europe and they recommended we should speak to a separate provider for non-European payments. Some of you may suggest PayPal, but PayPal’s commissions are pretty high. If we can avoid it, we should. Besides, PayPal is American. We want to avoid this, if at all possible.

Second, the programming is continuing. One important thing I should mention is the subject of geo-blocking, which pops up in the news again and again. Sadly enough, geo-blocking is common practice. This goes for all kinds of online players, including VoD platforms by national state televisions. MUBI, for instance, does a similar thing. Now that I’m in France, the choice of films is pretty lousy compared to the choice I had in the UK. Besides, films only come in French or with French subtitles. If you’re not familiar with the language (say, you have just moved for instance), you cannot watch the films. A monthly subscription would be a waste. When I was in Brussels for two months, all I could see on MUBI were films in Dutch or with Dutch subtitles. Useless to me. I don’t speak a word of Dutch. Geo-blocking is a problem nowadays. With regards to The Art(s) of Slow Cinema VoD, we think that building walls online restricts the access to a form of culture which should have its doors open to everyone. Why should you be able to watch film X only if you’re in a certain country? Everyone should have the right to see it. The Slow Cinema VoD platform will make this possible.

Last but not least, from the first batch of submissions I have chosen 30 films. This is a higher number than I expected at the beginning. Most of them are short films. A third of them are feature-length films, which I’m trying to get more of. It would be nice to showcase two feature films per curated “season” plus a package of short films. But this obviously depends on the submissions I receive. For two films I need to check the legal grounds because the directors are bound by a contract with IFFR Unleashed.

Speaking of which: I have contacted the people behind IFFR Unleashed about their project. Every year, some films from IFFR are selected for VoD streaming via iTunes and Google Play. I wasn’t aware of this. It’s a good idea in any case, though I do believe that some films, especially those slow films I have in mind, would benefit from a more focused platform than the vast mainstream-driven platforms by Apple and Google. I’m currently waiting for a response and hope that they are at least willing to speak to me about it.

This is it for now. As per usual, I’d like to renew the Call for Films which you can find here. Just keep them coming. And keep making them too! 🙂

Edit: You can now donate to our crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe.

Ambiancé [trailer] – Anders Weberg (2016)

I’m not sure where, or how to start. Usually, those reviews always come with an intro, but how to introduce a seven-hour long-take? If I was asked to summarise the entire seven hours, I would, sadly enough, have to say that it’s about two people (artists Niclas Hallberg and Stina Pehrsdotter) who colour stones black and white on a beach, who often disappear from view only to come back a couple minutes later. Maybe I should also mention that the film also shows those two people putting wooden sticks into the beach sand. This is what really happens in the film, but it’s a crude version of what we see. Seeing does not necessarily mean making sense of something. Any synopsis would fail to get to the bottom of the trailer, and would, perhaps, only put people off. So maybe I should just describe what my mind saw, because this is much more intriguing than what my eyes were seeing.

I’m aware that I run the risk of completely misinterpreting the film. Perhaps what I saw wasn’t intended by Anders Weberg himself. On the other hand, I guess that Anders didn’t create closed-off meaning. Just like the 72min teaser, which I reviewed a while ago, this trailer is, to me at least, a medium to discover yourself. I can imagine that someone who watches the Ambiancé trailer probably sees something else that differs from what my own views. But this is the beauty of it. There is no right or wrong. It’s a kind of experience that expresses itself in thoughts.

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The seven-hour piece is carried by two performers, who do a wonderful job, and who made me wonder whether I was really seeing a film, or whether I was seeing a performance. Is the Ambiancé trailer a performance film? Where does “film” stop, and where does “performance” begin? Ambiancé blurs the line, and it’s for this reason that it’s a superb gallery piece. I wouldn’t want to watch it in a dark cinema, stuck in my seat for seven hours. I have experience with Lav Diaz’s long films, and they’re perfectly fine for cinema. The crux with Diaz’s films is that there is a heavy narrative, sometimes with a lot of dialogues which, after two or three hours, begin to unravel the entire narrative. It is important to stay with it. Anders’ work has a lofty nature to it. It was perfectly fine to take a break and get a coffee, digest the images I have seen, and then return to it. The film was running continuously, but I wasn’t always physically present. Being away from the screen from time to time actually helped me to make sense of what I saw. It gave me space (and time) to ponder the images (well there is only one image, but you know what I mean!!).

So what did my mind see? My eyes saw two performers. One of them was dressed in black, the other in white. My mind saw a dance between Life (white) and Death (black). At the beginning of the film, Anders highlights the words life, death, love, quest and escape. You could take it as something that only drags the film into an even more endless (slow) spectacle. But no, those five words are, in fact, what the film is about. If you really wanted a synopsis, then those are your words: life, death, love, quest and escape. The length of the film (and, in this case at least, also the length of the one take) reminded me of this intriguing part of my trauma research.

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In my thesis on the films of Lav Diaz, I argued that a representation of post-trauma wouldn’t have been possible to the same extent in a two-hour long film. Why not? Because two hours don’t give you enough screen time for an in-depth study of human psychology. Then I came across a five-hour theatre play about the Rwandan genocide, connected to the argument that society and culture impose restrictions on the representation of trauma. A trauma narrative has to have a beginning and an end, it needs to have a climax and a denouement. It shouldn’t be excessively long. It should give the main points, but no details. Those representations are always in favour of the traumatic event, but not of the psychology that follows.

Perhaps, we cannot speak of trauma in the case of Ambiancé. Perhaps we can. I don’t want to read something that isn’t necessarily there. But the trailer is definitely about human psychology; the psychology of loss, of grief, of struggle. The interaction between Black (death) and White (life) makes this absolutely clear. There is an instance when White puts a rope around Black, dragging him along, then sort of tying him up in such a way that Black can no longer move his arms. Life struggles with the presence of death, a presence we are actually fully aware of, but a presence we often suppress and deny. We try to restrict Death’s access to our being, because we’re scared of it.

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At a later point, White lays down in the middle of the frame while Black puts stones onto White. It looks and feels like a burial ritual. Death overcomes Life. But then there is Life enveloping Death with a piece of white cloth at a later stage, a sort of embrace. Death goes down on his knees, Life follows. They look at each other. The embrace is complete. This image of Life and Death looking intently at each other for a long time after their hours-long battle is a sign of acceptance. Life isn’t possible without Death, and vice versa. Both are part of our daily going-ons.

I know from my experience with post-trauma that our, at times excessive, fear of death can be crippling. I’m surely not the only one, who tried to tie down Death because I wanted Life. Years later I would learn to wrap this white cloth around Death and embrace it, which now allows me to live life to the fullest (at least according to my standards 🙂 ). I don’t think this film only appeals to me. I’m sure there are people, who have struggled with grief, for instance, who see a similar representation in Anders’ film.

There isn’t a lot in the trailer of Ambiancé, but that what is there is profound, and this is what counts. However, you need to allow your mind to wander. Don’t try to stop it from going places. In a way, I see Ambiancé as a form of meditation where you can discover yourself. But this will only happen, if you allow it to happen.

Horse Money – Pedro Costa (2014)

It’s kind of sad that you have to wait almost two years for a brilliant film to cross your way. I missed Pedro Costa’s new film in Locarno, because I saw Lav Diaz’s From What Is Before (2014). That was my only chance somehow, because it has never popped up around me. I regret not having seen it there and then. Pedro Costa has convinced me with Horse Money, perhaps even made me a fan. When I saw Colossal Youth a while ago, I couldn’t really get into his work. Cinematographically it was beautiful, but I had issues to follow the narrative. Now, my having matured and having a more in-depth view on themes such as colonialism and the trauma that comes with it, I want to revisit not only Colossal Youth. I also want to see as much of his other films as I can. There is something very attractive about it, very engaging, very enveloping.

Horse Money is an exceptional piece and resonated with my experiences of Diaz’s films. Costa has created a haunting piece. His extraordinary play with light and shadow, the latter being most prominent, renders Horse Money as haunting as it could be. The frames are tight, adding to the haunting atmosphere a feeling of claustrophobia. What is it that holds us so tight, like prisoners? What is it that the characters are imprisoned in? What is it that the characters are looking to escape from, but who cannot flee?

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History. Memory. Trauma.

Three words which are embodied by characters and film style alike. Costa plays on temporal disorientation. Ventura, an elderly man and Costa’s muse, if you wish, speaks of the past as if it was present. He says he is 19 years and 3 months old. When asked whether he is married, he looks at his ring finger and hides it. He walks repeatedly through dark, endless corridors. Passages to the past, passages to memory.

Horse Money is situated on the threshold between life and death. We can never be sure whether the characters we see are alive, a result of a dream, a hallucination, or a simple memory. To me, even Ventura himself was a phantom, a man of ghostly presence who is removed from reality. And so was I. A curious effect I had never experienced with a film before – I felt removed from reality. I felt as though I saw the film from outside my body. The ghostly appearances of the few characters we meet, their almost constant whispering, their positions in dark, shadowy places – I wasn’t really where I thought I was. Where was I, then?

I’m not sure where Horse Money took me. I know that it hit certain spots. Trauma is one of them. I studied Diaz’s representation of post-trauma back and forth, and Costa’s is an entirely different, yet very effective approach. Ventura is paralysed. He’s living in a temporal loop. So are his friends. His shaking hands are indicative of shock, which, it often seems, he has lived through only a few minutes earlier. The date mentioned, however, is 11 March 1975, the day a coup attempt was beaten down by the Portuguese military government. It feels as if it was yesterday.

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Absence. Absent presence. Present absence.

Ventura enters his former work place, a building in ruins. Everything is shattered. He speaks to his boss who is no longer there. He dials numbers on broken telephones. It is an errie atmosphere. The past is well alive in Ventura’s mind, but not in Costa’s screen images. This discrepancy is startling throughout the film, and causes the temporal and spatial disorientation I was speaking of earlier. Above all, however, it is an image of people reeling from trauma. It is an image of paralysis, perhaps most obviously embodied in a single image: that of Ventura, naked apart from his red pants, standing in the streets at night, surrounded by soldiers and an armoured vehicle. He lifts his hands.

“You died a thousand deaths, Ventura,” a friend says. Horse Money feels like the end, but it isn’t. Ventura, struggling with what he calls a “nervous disease”, will die many more deaths before he can break out of the circle of history, memory, trauma.

Another Year – Shengze Zhu (2016)

A three hour long film about people eating – admittedly, this doesn’t sound like a must-see film. And it’s not even just three hours of people eating. It’s three hours of long slow takes as well. We’re not exactly speaking of fast food here 🙂

Another Year should, nevertheless, be on your must-see list for this year. It is an essential slow film to watch and is already my slow film of the year. Shengze Zhu draws a portrait of a Chinese migrant family. This is more than just about eating, although, if you are no more than a passive viewer, you could easily think that. I remember the time when I was younger. When my siblings were still home, dinner was always the time when we were together and talked about our day. It wasn’t dinner. It was a social gathering. Yes, we came together over food, but I found that it was more about exchanging our thoughts and feelings than about the actual process of eating.

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Those memories resurfaced when I saw Shengze’s film. The film has a very simple, but effective structure. It is divided into 13 months. Every meal in a certain month is shown in one long-take. In some cases, Zhengfan Yang, the cinematographer – also known for this films Distant and Where Are You Going? – uses medium long to long shots, partly framed by the inside of a house. A thoroughly engaging approach, because it plays with absence and presence.

In a way, Another Year is an extension of Liu Jiayin’s Oxhide II, which is all about making dumplings. In Another Year, you don’t see the cooking. It’s all about eating, and, funnily enough, they do eat a lot of dumplings! The kitchen is something that only exists in the off. It exists in the film’s sound, but the director doesn’t go beyond that. What she does make clear – both through off- and on-screen presence – is the absolutely invasive presence of the television, which is running almost all the time. It adds to the already claustrophobic nature of the room where most of the film is set.

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Why did I remember my childhood when I saw the film? Another Year tells the story of a family, which unfolds during dinner time. In January, the father comes home and the mother complains that she cannot stand her mother-in-law. In February, the mother-in-law has a stroke and is only talked about because she’s in hospital. In March, the mother has moved with her two smallest children to the house of her mother-in-law to look after her. And so it goes on. Every month, every meal, tells a new part of the story, which you have to piece together on the basis of the dialogues you hear. You cannot just sit and stare at the screen. Shengze Zhu asks you to be active.

And if you are, then you notice the currents below the surface. Another Year is drawing a picture of a family under pressure. The film is not a picture of happiness. If anything, the film is a portrait of frictions, of arguments, of anger and of impatience. No one in the film seems to be really happy. It often appears as though life is a chore, and yes, the mother does utter this early on in the film: “My God, why is life so hard?” Money is scarce. She has three kids with her husband being at work all day. Towards the end, she actually complains about this, but it is not even clear what she wants because she feels offended when her husband offers to stay home to look after the kids while she goes out to earn money. So what do these characters want?

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The oldest daughter wants new shoes. Then she wants new socks. And new chopsticks are also necessary. There is an almost constant “I want this – I want that” in the film, but because of the family’s poverty, the characters are stuck and do not seem to be able to move forward. This is shown quite literally by the framing, which is predominantly claustrophobic. The camera is often positioned in a small room where the characters eat, sleep, watch TV and play. It seems as though their entire life plays out in the very room we see in front of us. It’s not a surprise that frictions and arguments are almost a daily routine. There is no breathing space. Nor is there any light. I found that the entire film was pretty dark. Natural light was scarce. I’m aware that the family eats in the evening and that in some months there is no more natural light at that time. Yet, I do believe that the lack of natural light is indicative for the family’s misery. The claustrophobic space and the lack of light are enough to get a sense of unhappiness, of frustration, also indicated by a lot of shouting and accusations between the characters. The dialogues are – at least for this point – not necessary. Their mood, their thoughts, they are all visualised by the film’s aesthetics.

Another Year sounds like a pretty simple film, and yes, it is based on a very simple concept. In the end, we see thirteen family meals, although we don’t really see that, because the family never sits quietly together, and eats. They’re often all over the place, especially the young children. But this simplicity, which I have seen so often in other slow films is giving us a complex picture of an unhappy, poor family, and a society that is still haunted by the one-child policy. It gives us an insight into their lives, into their concerns – simply, by being. Shengze records this being, and captures a fascinating view on a modern working-class family in China. A three-hour long must-watch!