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Monday, August 12, 2019

On A Dirt Road (contemplative video)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being from Janos Kish on Vimeo.(2018/Janos Kis/Cambodia) 12'55"

There is a cow lounging on the side of a dirt road. Is it a sacred cow? This is not a postcard... the cow is ruminating patiently.  She whips her tail to chase away the flies, and shakes her large black ears. She is alone, abandonned on the side, at a distance in the frame. Not too estranged, not too familiar.

The landscape is planted there for eternity. The road, although losely defined, with patches of grass here and there, is mostly sand, stretching perfectly in the axis of the shot. A symetrical composition only distracted by the excentric position of the cow and a huge tree on the opposite side of the road, as a counterbalance. And behind the cow, a power line with dancing posts that can't seem to keep a straight posture.
The road has no end in sight it seems, as it unrolls up to the horizon, rigth into a perpendicular line of trees, which probably follows a perpendicular road. We can see, from time to time, silhouettes driving the horizon line, through the trees, from the right side to the left side and vice versa.

It's only when the first motorbike, in yellow, drives through the road, at the 3 minutes mark, that we see it slalloming in the background, following a hook on the right, behind a dense bush, then turning to the left again to exit the frame behind a row of trees. Another motorbike, all black, rides the same road at the same moment, but from the back, where we didn't see it coming in, toward us, after crossing the first motorbike.

When the yellow motorbike did its first hook, we notice something moving on the road at this place. There is in fact a second cow that was lounging and merging its grey colour with the sand, like a rock on the road. Now it is standing and moving around, we can definitely see a second cow in the distance, with a whipping tail and long black ears. She is standing right in the axis of the shot, or nearly so, presenting her profile to us. The two cows are a plastic duo. One is close, one is far. One on the left side, one on the axis. One is lounging, one is standing. One is looking at us, one is ignoring us.

This scene is reminiscent of the famous opening of Satantango (1994) where Béla Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky film cattle in an enclosure until the cows move outside in the streets of an abandonned Hungarian village. Tarr and Hranitzky slowly track down the cows as they make their way outside, like if the herd was pulling the camera with its slow locomotion.
But here, Janos Kis chose to keep a static camera (like in most of his short contemplative films), because the cows stay in place and it is the frame that defines the storyline of the shot. The composition is extremely calm and peaceful. Only brievely interrupted by the passage of bikes or trucks, whiches are merely scratching the road surface, like floating on a dirt cloud, dispersed by the wind. The immobile cows dictate a static shot. The animation of the shot comes from the intermittent crossing of vehicules along this road.

The static camera reminds of the work of the Lumière brothers (who shot only short documentaries of a single view by technical constraints, in black and white and silent of course), Andy Warhol (who used extreme long takes of the same view in black and white), James Benning (who films experimental documentaries of static shots of empty landscapes), Niklaus Geyrhalter (who is a German documentarian compiling single takes of various length of places and landscapes)...

My first thought was it must be India. But Janos confirmed me it was located outside of Siem Reap, nearby the world famous Angkor Conservation Park, in Cambodia. It is an ode to this country's peaceful landscape, of a rural back lane, almost abandonned, but still used daily by some lonely riders.

The title refers to Milan Kundera's 1984 Czech book about a handful of adulterous intellectuals living in Prague during the year 1968 when the political liberalization allowed for the Prague Spring, a period of artistic florish and protests. The book was put into film by Philip Kaufman in 1988.
Far from the intellectual romance of this book and film, the title still evokes, out of context, a Buddhist mantra, a Zen koan, which is examplified by the look at this passive cow. This unmoveable cow represents the spiritual detachment of the contemporary world full of attentions and notifications, This dirt road is the antithesis of the speedways of information, back to the roots of humanity in a simplier world, more grounded, closer to nature, more laborious than industrious, in one word pastoral.

*  *  *

A few words from the filmmaker Janos Kis :

"It was early morning, the sky was beautiful when I was driving my car on the dirt road and suddenly realised a cow in a picturesque background. I parked the car nearby but not very close to observe what's happening. I'm not sure how long it took but I realised this was what I was looking for. Everything looked like a painting. My camera equipment was on the backseat. I chose the lens with soft tones, perfect for the occasion. Set up the tripod, camera, microphone and was waiting for the right moment. I never just start rolling if I don't feel the time has come.

Sometimes it takes 5,10,15 minutes or more to wait before I start rolling and at the end "Did you see the angel going through?" as Lajos Koltai (HSC/ASC Cinematographer) told me once during a workshop in Budapest. Istvan Szabó (Oscar winning director) used to ask L. Koltai and vice versa after shooting an important sequence "Did you see the Angel?" and if yes everything was alright.

So that day everything was at the right place in the right time. Not only the two cows, but all the motorbikes, the trucks, even the birds and the pagoda music from the distance. I just had to wait for an Angel and cut.

I hardly cut even the beginning or the end of my film's if not necessaries nor do I color correct them. As for all my films, this one is shot on a Pro Canon DSLR camera with the appropiate lenses and I used a Pro Rode shotgun mic.

The most difficult thing is when shooting extreme long takes outdoor the lighting is constantly changing.
My films are shorts but very slow, a kind of Zen films. All the stories have beginning, middle and end within an invisible timeline.
The storyline is written by the life itself. I'm not directing the film in the classical meaning of the word. I'm just a messenger.

The audience must be very much devoted. As the respected director Bela Tarr used to say "They must make their decisions at the first few minutes they leave, or stay and watch the film till the end."

Find more of Janos Kis's short contemplative films on Vimeo or YouTube. His blog is JanosKisPhotoAndVideography 

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Rooftop under construction (contemplative video)

Building (2014/Arthur Caria/Brazil)1'58"

This shot is not only Black & White, but devoid of greyscale as well. Strictly pure black and pure white. For the most part. We notice a shadow on the bottom right corner which divulges a possible video effect used to saturate the contrast to the max. With an odd canted angle this view could be a photograph of the Soviet Constructivism. The aesthetic is sublime. But it is very frontal. This scene is a black cardboard cutout (pure shadow) against a white background (pure light) as only a camera could see it. These minuscule silhouettes remind me of the fine paper cutting of one Lotte Reiniger (The Adventures of Prince Ahmed/1926). But these stickmen aren't animation, this is real life.

From a high vantage point we observe the last level of a building under construction, and a team of busy workers : 8 on top and a couple more on the lower levels (they are caged in a prison of wires). The handheld camera emphasizes the voyeur point of view of a James Stewart in Rear Window (1954).The telelens and the monochromy flatten the perspective and hang the characters as if on a clothline. Their walking around looks even more perious than it probably is. It's like if all of them walked the edge of a wall top, and were about to fall to their death. Yet they hang around with the most natural decontraction. Look at this one kneeling over. See that one crawling on all four. This is scary!

From time to time appears the steel bars left naked awaiting for the next concrete pillars to be poured in for a higher level. These are like weapons erected to kill. And the workers, like magicians, pass through without harm, seamlessly. If you look carefully, you could see a white reflection coming from above, on their hats, shoulders and backs. Especially when they move one over the other, the white delimitation can still define the silhouettes mixed together.

Then the zoom comes in and reaches closer. Two guys hold a hammer. Another two roll up a rope or a wire. Others stand there idling. But who is the boss? It is difficult to tell. One seems to talk while others around him listen. He's got their attention. But look at the one crawling, he's now bending over the edge and slaming a hammer downstairs. This one will surely fall over.
We contemplate their whereabouts without sound, without words, and figure out bit by bit what is going on, who they are, what they want... This is the power of minimalist narration.

Part of a series of "One-Shot-Video-Poems" filmed in 2015 by Arthur Caria. See his website Cinemática Expositiva for more clipoems like this one. Or Unheimlich here.

See also :

Sidewalk - Exterior : Night (contemplative video)

Unheimlich (2015/Arthur CARIA/Brazil) 3'31"

One take, one point of view, one subject, one continuous temporality. 
It is difficult at first to figure out what is going on in this seemingly stolen shot from an overlooking window. A God's point of view. The  grainy light is gloomy and crepuscular. It is challenging to make out shapes from shadows, foreground from background, representations from reflections, impressions from illusions... 
The curious high slant at an almost perfect 45° angle composes an eerily deceptive axonometric projection, which can revert inside-out the perspective depending on the viewer's inclination.
Are we looking at a valley or a mountain fold? Is it a precipice or a wall? The shadows disappear on the edge, but is it because the shadows are projected down below at the bottom of the wall or is it a wall standing on the edge hiding the end of the shadows? Cars pass by furtively, with their headlights sweeping the scene from below. However this additional light doesn't help to reconstruct the volumes. And a puddle rests there between the road and the sidewalk like a fortunate mirror, which is completely black unless an automobile drives by reflecting its lights.
The flat night lighting doesn't help much... It takes time to accustom onelsef to the perspective and the geography of such a simple place. It is almost a theatre stage, with two animals.
But what are they? This is not evident at first sight to determine what we are dealing with. They must be dogs! One of those giant dogo Argentino. It is only on second viewing that I could be certain of them being horses, very calm horses, abandonned there for the night.
Two horses on the sidewalk in the night. Why ? Why not ? Maybe these are the questions of this piece.

Are they Turin horses, escaped from a Béla Tarr and Agnès Hranitzky film or a Nietsche biopic. The two of them are standing in place like two statues. Parked there by their elusive owners like a car on a parking lot. Two stallions without their cowboys, outside the saloon. No saddle. No halter. No lead. Yet they await patiently. These lonely horses are incredible. The symbol of freedom they stand for is frustrated by this picture. The surrounding is not the wilderness, nontheless they are arrested (if not attached) in one place, between a road and a wall, as if their savage nature was robbed from them.

The title refers to a 1919 (a century ago!) Freudian concept Das Unheimlich or The Uncanny which describes an experience that is "strangely familiar". Indeed, everything in this picture seems familiar, but nothing falls in place just right. Something is strange about it, and keeps us from looking away. Is it because we imagine them on the verge of falling off a vertical drop to their instant death? Or is it because they seem abandonned by all humanity, left on their own in an indifferent world, for who knows how long more? Is it the perplexed human or the outraged animal in us watching this short scene?

Without a plot, without protagonist, this contemplative video clip, frozen in stasis, is packed with mystery, ambiguous environment, mude offscreen, slow mood and stranded alienation. The components of Contemporary Contemplative Cinema.
What a fluke to capture this instant! What an eye to frame this out of context! What a patience to film it entirely!

Part of a series of "One-Shot-Video-Poems" filmed in 2015 by Arthur Caria. See his website Cinemática Expositiva for more clipoems like this one. Or watch Building here.

See also :

Saturday, May 25, 2019

IT MUST BE HEAVEN (Elia Suleiman) - Press conference Cannes 2019

 Elia Suleiman admitted being a fan of Jacques Tati. But also a fan of Roy Andersson's films and Tsai Ming-liang's films. Really interesting words on silence in his films too.

It Must Be Heaven received a Special Mention at Cannes 2019.

Elia Suleiman hadn't make a new film for 10 years since The Time That Remains (2009)