Attention & Contemplative Cinema (Elsaesser)

"In recent years the term “slow” has acquired a certain reputation among the cinephile community, connoting a range of positive cinematic qualities that brings (mainly non-Hollywood) filmmaking into proximity with “slow food”: locally sourced, traditionally prepared and part of a sustainable eco-system.[..] 

[..] They [Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse & Pedro Costa's In Vanda's Room] epitomize much of what the positive evaluations have in mind: their uncompromising reduction of narrative and spectacle, their focused concentration on the sacred moments of the ordinary, their close attention to the everyday, their steadfast gaze on the characters who want neither sympathy nor open themselves to empathy, since we are told very little about them. Among the qualities that keep one riveted are the films’ attention to the materiality of objects and the figures’ rapport with the spaces they inhabit, physically specific yet universal in their minimalism; and finally it is the characters’ refusal to be treated as either victims or case studies, however peculiar their way of life and however dire or abject their socio-economic condition: all this designates them as protagonists of a special kind of cinema. [..]

[..] It may seem that the two detours I have taken through the once antagonistic mutuality of cinema and museum, and the equally interdependent mutuality of ‘attention’ and ‘distraction’ have led me a long way away from the kind of “slow cinema” of Bela Tarr or Carlos Reygadas. But that was my intention: first to put the issue of “slow” at some distance from its opposition with “fast”, where it risks being the subservient term in an always-already-in-place hegemonic powerrelation, and instead embed it in the reflexive turn that I associate with the new alliance between cinema and museum, each using a crisis as an opportunity. [..] Secondly, I wanted to disentangle both “slow” and “attention” from its association with measurable parameters (e.g. “average shot length”, “saccadic eye movements”) and instead re-entangle them with the viewer’s experience of temporality, but also of space, scale, synesthesia: against the background not of acceleration, but of distraction and distributed attention. Thirdly, I wanted to argue that the heightened attention and attentiveness which is one of the key characteristics of slow cinema is best seen not in opposition to distraction, but can emerge out of distraction, and even be a special case of distraction. [..]"