Edwin Mak : "Continuing on the theme of the negative, and objectionable ethics, may I ask you and anyone else for your examples and why? What is it about your examples, delimited by your own tastes, indicate an objectionable usage of minimalism/contemplative technique?"Let's open a new discussion here for a question asked by Edwin Mak in a recent post (Atkinson on minimalism) about the pros and cons of stylistics techniques and mise-en-scene characteristic or not of the CCC trend. (My apologize for taking so long to put up this new post)
We seem to disagree on whether a particular film is part of CCC or not. We don't consider the same elements of film language as being "disqualifying", or as an evidence of a true/strict "contemplative" film. So let's see what everyone think are the cardinal sins found in a film that you consider "exploitation" or "over-the-top" or "betraying" or "objectionable" or simply "anti-contemplation".
Atkinson doesn't like Colossal Youth and thinks it's a hack job that discredits the purity of "Minimalism". And I disagree of course because I admire this film. So is it just a matter of taste difference that move us to approve or reject such or such film, whether we call them "Minimalist" or "Contemplative"?
Well taste aside, We can break down the mise-en-scene in technical terms and assess the whole intention of the auteur. In other words, does Costa seeks "minimalism" (or Brechtian?) or does he go for "contemplation" (whatever that means to him)?
Unlike neorealism or La Nouvelle Vague, CCC is not a conscious trend where like-minded auteurs gather around the same idea, mutually influenced by a common style. CCC auteurs come from all over the world and from different cultural background, but there is definitely some shared identity in their filmmaking language. And these new traits are all the more distinct and unique when compared to traditional filmmaking (which is still the overwhelming norm in mainstream cinema, and has always been). So I'm taking this into account to figure what are the "unspoken rules" of this emerging trend. When films look similar they "work" almost the same way (which serves as a tentative definition on the blog description) and when they do "contemplation" differently it highlights their exceptions (for instance the usage of speech, music, professional actors, CGI or classical narrative device).
That's how I define a "strict model" of hardcore CCC auteurs (Tsai, Bartas, Weerasethakul, Reygadas, Alonso, Tarr, Dumont...) with a nebula around them gradually less and less "contemplative" because they take more and more exceptions to the original purity of this self-defined trend, by slightly adding more narrative music (Kaurismaki, Wong Kar-wai, Lynch), more narrative editing (Wong Kar-wai, Gus Van Sant, Lynch, Martel), more plot-driven dialogue (Jia, Wong Kar-wai, HHH, Ceylan, Hong Sang-soo, Angelopoulos, Dardennes, Lynch), more stylized performance (Kaurismaki, Andersson, Barney), more special effects (Suleiman, Andersson, Lynch)... while remaining a lot more "contemplative" than the mainstream fare.
To me a true CCC film doesn't require any of this. It could be as bare as a single shot with non-actors filmed running errands without beginning nor end, without even a proper "message" or a point to the storytelling, without complicated staging, . They don't have to be all as ascetic as that. But it all comes down to the amount of narrative construction they add and how "distracting" it gets from a "contemplative perspective".
The state of contemplation (which is the focal point of this trend by definition) implies a liberty of the viewer to witness events taking place before his/her eyes, without being spoon-fed digested hints and codes, without attention-grabber framing, without walk-through montage. the contemplative viewer is sitting at the window, looking out into the world, a world offered for contemplation, for consideration, for reflection. And even if the meanings in CCC are implicit nonetheless (because the auteur meant to make THIS film and not ANY film), the range of interpretation and the level of participation is left at the viewer's discretion. Inasmuch as every viewer may watch a different film, project their own interpretation, imagine their own untold backstory to the characters. that's what make CCC films original.
Of course, the point is not to strive toward an alleged "purity" of this trend. But I can see how certain gimmicks can become distraction, interferences, perversions (Atkinson calls that exploitation) of how this new family of films tends to mark its difference. If a device tends to decrease the difference with the mainstream norm, then it does become "objectionable" (to use Edwin's word) in my book. Not objectionable in the sense that they are "excommunicated" (because auteurs never pledged to be part of this unspoken trend!) but objectionable to the meaning we give to the stricter model of CCC (which is what I defined above, and also evoked by these notions: wordlessness, plotlessness, slowness, alienation).
So when I see a film using reaction shots and narrative cues, or flashback techniques, I know that it is still operating within the known territory of mainstream cinema to some extent. Therefore it is a weaker representative of a stand alone trend (since true CCC doesn't require the usual narrative conventions to tell a story through atmosphere and visuals). It's as simple as that, either they resort to devices familiar to the audience, or they venture in uncharted territory, where narration doesn't earn its credibility from overstated cues and plot set up.
Well that's just to introduce the topic, you may add your own take in the comments below.