Tag Archives: Pedro Costa

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 235 – Vitalina Varela

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

A slow, careful drama, Vitalina Varela – named for the non-professional actor at the centre, who plays a version of herself – tells a story of grief, anger, and discovery. Vitalina, abandoned by her husband in the 1980s, travels to Portugal from Cape Verde to confront him, but finds that he has passed away just days ago. She is left to explore the house he has left empty and the life he led without her for some forty years, and the film gives ample time to the feelings and questions that arise within her.

We discuss the economic situation depicted – this is a slum in Lisbon, built into the ground, feeling a world away from the vibrant, wealthy capital nearby – and Varela’s visual power, her performance one of presence as much as acting, as she moves slowly through the town like a ghost. Leonardo Simões’ cinematography is extraordinarily beautiful, thoughtfully composed and intricately lit, and Mike remarks upon how the edges of the 4:3 frame blend into the blackness of a widescreen television, giving a feeling of an expanse of darkness. We ultimately disagree on how much we liked it: José was engrossed throughout, Mike found the tempo a trial – but stories like Vitalina Varela’s are necessary to tell, rare to see, and worth experiencing.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Joe Humfrey – Understanding Slowness Through the Cinema of Gaspar Noé

Lovely video essay, which I think I only grasped after second viewing and after reading the Creator´s Statement (below), which does what it´s supposed to do, i.e. create a context for viewing. The video essay is an ambitious one which faces and surmounts two very difficult tasks: it cannot reproduce the experience of any of the films mentioned as some of those takes would be longer than the essay itself, and the cinema of Gaspar Noé and ‘Slow’ cinema seem on the surface incompatible. Original and intriguing work.

José Arroyo

 

PURPOSE

 

For this video essay, I wanted to explore Gaspar Noé’s ‘Climax’ in relation to Slow cinema. The interest in this argument stems from a desire to help audiences re-evaluate their perceptions of slow cinema and reframe their understanding of the medium. I find it to be an unfortunately neglected and unfairly criticised style of filmmaking and one that with a different perspective can be appreciated far more by audiences. My idea came from thinking that by bridging a connection between two seemingly opposing styles of cinematic language it would help in changing perceptions by offering an entirely new lens to the form. The particular reasoning behind the connection of Slow Cinema and Gaspar Noé is that whilst the two styles seemingly exist at opposing ends of a cinematic scale, I find both to be quintessentially underlined by a fundamental desire to work on creating an experientially based journey as opposed to typical narrative cinema. Furthermore, I believe the two work by delivering a unique empathetic quality, an empathy which demands the audience to share the characters’ emotional turmoil by creating a discomfort in the viewing experience. Whilst video essays on Slow Cinema are sparse, I found the pre-existing examples seem to aim at presenting their content to people who are already audiences of the genre. I felt that by including and analysing around Gaspar Noé, the video could aim at attracting new audiences rather than informing pre-existing ones.

 

Whilst Slow Cinema and Noe’s films obviously have attributes outside of these traits, I find these to be the two most compelling and perhaps important qualities of their work. However, I do find it necessary to state that this video essay is not categorising Climax as Slow Cinema. Whilst aware of the immense disparity between the two styles, the use of Climax as an example was certainly not to try and make a claim to reconsider Climax as Slow Cinema. It was rather to further an appreciation of Slow Cinema in an attempt to create a new and engaging comparison that would hopefully help bring new perspectives to audiences and perhaps new audiences to the genre. With this also comes the recognition of the various definitions of slow cinema and the vast difference in interpretations. This video essay does not want to disregard research, ideas and interpretations of purposes around slow cinema, whilst many fascinating ideas around the form exist, including discussions around relaxation, politics and society (issues that mostly do not exist in Noe’s work), whilst aware of these, I felt that the nuances of these arguments would have distracted from the purpose of the piece – an attempt to fuel an appreciation of slow cinema rather than extensively defining what is already a heavily contested form. Whilst I find a lot of the writing on slow cinema to be fascinating, extensive and informative, I find that to portray the argument for an appreciation and connection to Noé’s cinema, I had to often omit these complex nuances and work on explaining and offering an analysis through the perspective in which I find to be the fundamental viewing experience of these films.
CREATION

 

One of the key ideas around the creation of this piece was emphasising tone. Throughout the essay I wanted the structure and progression to, at least in some form, reflect slow cinema itself. Obviously, this becomes challenging when to truly experience the slowness of this cinema, each clip could have existed at the length of the essay itself. However, I found that by choosing clips with very little progression and still holding them with a fair length, it is very easy to imagine the progression of the clips. Therefore, whilst the cutting is far slower than most video essays and holds less material, I believe this was a necessity for the work, especially in highlighting the experience of slow cinema. Another important creative choice in terms of emphasising tone was the voice-over – whilst the somewhat subdued and slow voiceover often led to having to omit ideas or information, I found that it was important to instead reflect the quietude of stillness in slow cinema. The essay focuses on ideas of tone and emotion to try and replicate Slow Cinema. The aim of this was to create an immersion in the video itself and a reflection of the genre rather than to indulge copious and condensed information at the expense of style, experience or tone. This emphasis on tone was aimed at allowing the clips to merge into one another and for the similarities to be recognised by the viewer themselves. This idea of tonally reflecting slowness is alluded to further in lines which often repeat throughout, such as the concept of excess and minimalism, ideas around empathy and the denotation of ‘This is Slow Cinema.’ Whilst I worry that this may not achieve its desired outcome, my ambition was to subtly reflect what feels like the ongoing repetitive nature of Slow Cinema, whilst also using repetition as a device of my argument.

 

I also found it important to often let the films speak for themselves and to grab the audience’s attention in reflection on the narration. The narrations whole purpose is to aid an appreciation of Slow Cinema as opposed to merely reflecting my own. Therefore, by allowing moments of uninterrupted viewing, the audience is able to indulge in the artwork of the directors and their films, ultimately there is no better explanation of Slow Cinema than the films themselves. This idea of holding the shot is most prominent in the final clip’s long run time: by using a clip from Climax to ultimately conclude the piece after the proceeding clips of Slow Cinema, I wanted the argument to stand for itself. I felt the clip feels as if it could easily be another scene from a Slow Film. It also connects to many of the ideas I’d previously mentioned, and this is especially coordinated with the bridging of Debussy’s music which runs between. Although I briefly speak over the clip, I wanted many of the connections and ideas of the essay to be allowed for the viewer to interpret, understand and think about as the essay concludes within the stillness. Ultimately, the argument is not a definitive one but like the cinematic style, should offer room for contemplation.
Another important aspect in any video essay is the combination of self-analysis in addition to the use of relevant literature. Whilst various texts on slow cinema exist, there is little on the work of Noe or Climax and no writing on a connection between the forms. For the essay, I wanted to be able to use literature to contextualise and explain slow cinema, whilst producing my own analysis to build the connection between the two. I found that this mergence of literature and analysis allows for the video essay to both reflect my original thought but also an important definition and explanation on the form by experts in the field. I wanted the literature to spark an interest and understanding, whilst the analysis and connection to offer an original perspective.

 

In terms of the structure, I decided to both begin and end with various clips of slow cinema. I wanted to be able to show a variety of images from slow cinema to allow the viewer to have a wide understanding of its style and it’s variations, for this reason I made sure to not use the same director twice and also to create a varied exposure across many different directors, subjects and national cinemas. I wanted the opening scenes to be informative and show what slow cinema is, whilst the final scenes were aimed to reflect on the analysis and conclude the argument. By bookending the video essay with clips from slow cinema, I wanted to try and create an idea of progression in the understanding and appreciation of how the clips work. I also found that by inputting the analysis of Climax in between this, it simultaneously presents the clear disparity between the work, whilst hopefully allowing my argument to also work in persuading audiences into understanding how the disparity is not as vast as one may think. By doing this, the video essay has a clear narrative structure and I hope that this structure worked in allowing for a progression of the idea and allowed for audiences to leave with an enhanced understanding or appreciation of Slow Cinema.

 

Joe Humfrey

 

FILMOGRAPHY

 

 

Akin, Fatih, The Edge of Heaven (Germany: Anka Film, 2007)

 

Diaz, Lav, From What Is Before (Philippines: Sine Olivia Philipinas, 2014)

 

Tarr, Béla, The Turin Horse (Hungary: T. T. Filmműhely, 2011),

 

Weerasethakul, Apichatpong, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand: Kick the Machine, 2010)

 

Frammartino, Michelangelo, The Four Times (Italy: Invisible Film, 2010)

 

Noé, Gaspar, Climax (France: Wild Bunch, 2018)

 

Noé, Gaspar, Love (France: Wild Bunch, 2015)

 

Noé, Gaspar, Enter the Void (France: Wild Bunch, 2009)

 

Noé, Gaspar, Irreversible (France: Studio Canal, 2002)

 

Haneke, Michael, Hidden (France: France 3 Cinema, 2005)

 

Costa, Pedro, In Vanda’s Room (Portugal: Contracosta, 2000)

 

Akerman, Chantal, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (France: Paradise Films, 1975)

 

Tsai, Ming-liang, Vive L’Amour (Taiwan: Central Motion Pictures, 1994)

 

Hu Bo, An Elephant Sitting Still (China: Dongchun Films, 2018)

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

Gronstad, Asbjorn, Film and the Ethical Imagination (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

 

Jaffe, Ira, Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2014)

 

Gibbs, John and Douglas Pye, The Long Take: Critical Approaches (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)

 

Ann Doane, Mary The Emergence of Cinematic Time – Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002)

 

Song Hwee, Lim Tsai Ming-Liang and a Cinema of Slowness (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2014)

 

Agacinski, Sylviane, Time Passing: Modernity and Nostalgia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003)

 

Sinople, Taylor, ‘Stray Dogs Review’, The Focus Pull, October 14 2013 <http://www.thefocuspull.com/features/review-stray-dogs/>

[accessed 12 November 2019]

 

De Luca, Tiago, and Nuno Barradas Jorge, Slow Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015)