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Saturday, December 09, 2017

Scholarly Contemplative Cinema

Here are some books, magazines or PhD thesis on slow cinema/contemplative cinema available online (latest addition to the Bibliography page):

Feel free to add more if you found others

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Makala (2017/Emmanuel Gras)

Opening sequence:

The back of a man walking across a village, carrying one tool on each shoulder. The camera follows him, staring at his nape like a Dardenne film. His body shakes at each step, moving up and down. We only see the tool handles hanging in his back. The camera overtakes her subject and pans to the right to show his profile. We discover his face, closed, focused on walking, and the end of one of the tools. It's an axe, which blade is hooked around his shoulder. A voice off screen says "Hello, you're already awake?" This must be quite early in the morning. And the camera pans towards this villager after seeing the face of our protagonist lighten up, the camera pans back toward the path he's walking on.
The film cuts several times during the progression through the bushes, pasting together several stages of this journey. Until he arrives at the foot of a big tree. The camera contemplates the summit of the foliage. Off screen we hear the impact of the axe that has already started to cut the trunk. The camera is spinning around the tree, slowly panning up and down as the loop around the tree comes to an end. This is when we see the origin of the sounds, he's cutting down the tree. The size of the trunk is too big for a man alone, yet he hits the tree relentlessly, opening a gap that will eventually fell down the tree and its high-reaching branches to the ground.

This opening sequence reminds me of Lisandro Alonso's La Libertad (2001). Whereas Misael in Alonso's film cut down trees and sold them as long pillars to a buyer who came on site with a truck, Kabwita in Gras' film makes charcoal out of the branches and go sell them to the nearest city, 50km away, in equilibrium on a rickety bike. What the opening sequence doesn't tell us is that Kabwita lives in Congo and that "makala" is charcoal in Swahili.
The episode with the traditional charcoal oven made out of dirt is reminiscent of Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte (2010) (analysis here). Smoke lifts off from places on the dirt mount, for a couple of weeks, to burn down the timber without oxygen and turn out cristal-sounding pieces of black wood.
But the longest part of this film is the road between his village and the city. He leaves in the dark of dawn and spends 2 or 3 days pushing this bike stuffed with dozen of charcoal bags, day and night. The night shots are only illuminated by the headlights of incoming traffic, backlit when the car is behind the bike, and shining on the bike when the car arrives behind the camera.
This journey is unbearable, not to mention the hard-hitting sun. Soon he joins other sellers who also slowly push their bike. They are stopped by a few men who demand baksheesh for permission to pass on a road, at a random point. The camera stays far back and watches the transaction from afar as if it was forbidden to film. Kabwita begs but gives up one bag of charcoal to pay the ransom.
This film is labeled a documentary, but the credits list Emmanuel Gras as the director, writer and cinematographer. So the film is written, staged, rehearsed and mis-en-scène. It's more a drama with non-actors acting under their own names, than a real documentary of real slices of life. And the camera viewpoint is indeed different, more aesthetic like a fiction, and less spontaneous like a documentary.

Les Cahiers du Cinéma deal with it like a pure documentary and blame the filmmaker for being a selfish bystander at the sight of a struggling man, pushing a mountain of charcoal under the sun. But it's a fiction based on this man's life, the scenes we see are fabricated and the trip is abbreviated.
I much preferred his first documentary called Bovines (2012), which, as I remember, was more contemplative with less cuts and longer shots, without human voices, only with shots of cows. Nothing like this 8h long documentary on sheep (which is strangely post-synch with ubiquitous sheep noises): BAA BAA LAND (2017)
Makala received the Grand Prix of La Semaine de la Critique in Cannes 2017.

Teaching Jeanne Dielman (The Cine-Files)

"I’ve taught Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975), nearly every year for twenty-five years. (...) Its sounds are sparing and punctual; you can also hear your neighbor’s fidgeting. It thus challenges what a movie is to look at and listen to, what cinema is as a way of bestowing attention. Like other time-based arts, Jeanne Dielman depends on rhythm; for a long time after watching it, I feel as if I am moving to a metronome. (...) Student responses have led me to realize that the patient, forgiving gaze that the film solicits is as filial as it is feminist. (...) Jeanne Dielman can make a formalist out of anyone, and it is a great lesson for would-be filmmakers about how setting limits can inspire one’s best work. (...) Jeanne Dielman has 223 shots averaging close to one minute each. (...) There are two pieces I assign whatever the course: Janet Bergstrom’s influential essay on Jeanne Dielman, written “for the Camera Obscura collective” and published in 1977 in the journal’s second issue alongside excerpts from an interview with the director, identifies the film’s unique “logic of viewer/viewed,” director and character, feminist and feminine, in urgent and elegant prose. (...)De Lauretis writes: “What the film constructs—formally and artfully, to be sure—is a picture of female experience, of duration, perception, events, relationships and silences, which feels immediately and unquestionably true.” (...)Over 25 years there are of course always new things to take into account when I teach Jeanne Dielman. Sofia Coppola, Todd Haynes, Kelly Reichardt, and Gus Van Sant pay homage to Akerman in their work. (...)Students have told me over the years that the film was one of the most meaningful that they encountered in their film education—an unforgettable, sense-memory implanting experience. Jeanne Dielman is about routine and rupture, deep love and risk-taking—so is teaching."
Patricia White

full text at The Cine-Files (Dossier of Film Teaching)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

NYT's 25 Best Movies of the 21st Century

  • A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
  • Silent Light (Reygadas)
  • Three Times (HHH)
  • Timbuktu (Sissako)
  • Wendy and Lucy (Reichardt)
5 Contemplative films out of 25, that's 20% of the best of the century (so far). 
Not bad for a mainstream journal that publishes Dan Kois (the bored philistine).

Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Fireflies is a print magazine, a beautifully crafted book, published between Berlin and Melbourne by founders Annabel Brady-Brown and Giovanni Marchini Camia:
(...) Each issue assembles an international group of writers and visual artists to celebrate the work of two extraordinary filmmakers through personal essays, interviews and creative responses. (...)
We print responses to cinema that are personal, daring and that wouldn’t necessarily be found in other film journals­: short fiction, visual art, poetry, memoir, comics, and creative non-fiction that experiments with multiple forms. (...)
What is interesting to Unspoken Cinema is the filmmakers they chose, always by pair, are familiar with the list of CCC filmmakers :