14. Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010, Italy)
If there is one film that will make unprepared audiences pull their hair out in frustration, it’s definitely this one. Both unique and challenging in the fact that even though it’s a sound film, it’s largely wordless (with not even one single subtitle in sight even though it’s an Italian film!) and plotless, the film simply follows the fortunes of an old goat herder, and then a baby goat, a huge tree where the baby goat died at, and finally the remains of that big old tree as it’s first cut down and then used in a town festival and finally makes its way to a charcoal kin.
In short, imagine the leisurely ‘plot’ of Richard Linklater’s classic indie breakthrough Slacker, but without dialogue and mostly without humans as its subject, and you’re kind of halfway there. It is in fact inspired by Pythagoras’ belief in ‘four-fold transmigration” of souls, hence the passing of the baton as the film’s subject to a nearby living thing every time a subject ‘dies’ and the English translation of the film’s title which means “The Four Times”.
It may sound daunting at first, but what director Frammartino has managed to achieve here is not only an austere observational film in the form of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, but also an austere observational comedy in the form of Jacques Tati’s Playtime. There’s even a staggering comic set-piece observed in long shot and in a long take, involving a dog, an Easter procession, a van and the van’s failing brakes that’s just so laugh out loud funny that it’ll definitely make Tati proud.
13. Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010, USA)
There are plenty of big American names who have tried their hand at an Americanized version of slow cinema like Gus Van Sant with Gerry and Last Days or Vincent Gallo with The Brown Bunny, but none of them have come close to the very relaxed ease that permeate Sofia Coppola’s Venice Golden Lion winner Somewhere.
Finding the perfect story in its tale of a movie star father spending the summer with his 11 year old daughter, this film is a shining example of when form and content perfectly collide with each other, as every single seemingly ‘slow’ moment feels entirely justified as it feels more like hanging out with the two characters during that summer instead of watching them onscreen.
12. Putty Hill (Matt Porterfield, 2010, USA)
There’s an overlap between slow cinema and what’s sometimes called ‘in-between’ cinema, which is basically a simple way to describe films that straddle the line between fiction and documentary. It could be a case of actual participants re-enacting a story that happened to them (something that Iranian films seem to be very good at, like in Close-Up and The Apple), real people playing themselves in a fictional narrative, a merging of the two or even documentary elements imagined as a fictional narrative.
With Putty Hill, director Matt Porterfield has beautifully made a film that’s both slow cinema and ‘in-between’ cinema as he skillfully uses documentary techniques to tell a fictional story about a dead kid and the effect of his death on a working class community in the outskirts of Baltimore.
Footage of actors not only speaking directly to the camera, but also answering questions from an off-screen interviewer (presumably Porterfield himself) are liberally used alongside fictional dramatic elements to further the film’s narrative, and what emerges is a touching and emotional portrait of a place and a community that’s not only startlingly genuine, but also an important aesthetic breakthrough in DIY American indie cinema.
11. Nana (Valerie Massadian, 2011, France)
Quite possibly the most obscure item on this list, this 68 minute film consists of around 76 shots, all of them on a tripod, and only 6 of which involves panning the camera, which should already signify how slow a film this will be.
Add to that the fact that more than 80% of that time is spent in the company of the four year old Nana of the film’s title, at first together with her mother as they go about their daily routine like picking up firewood, taking a bath, eating and reading bedtime stories, and later on more than 60% of which will be spent with her going about her daily routine alone as her mother suddenly and mysteriously disappears, leaving her all alone in a cottage near the woods, it is simply remarkable how riveting a watch this film is.
In a film that is the textbook definition for ‘indeterminacy’, Kelyna Lecomte is positively astonishing in her totally unaffected performance as Nana, and her performance alone is enough reward for enduring the challenges that this film provides.
10. Norte, The End Of History (Lav Diaz, 2013, Philippines)
Fans of Filipino director Lav Diaz have indeed called this Diaz-lite, as its running time of ‘only’ 4 hours and 10 minutes is nothing compared to the 11 hours of Evolution Of A Filipino Family or the 9 hours of Death In The Land Of Encantos. But unlike his other movie marathons, the relatively short length of this film (and its probably bigger budget) has allowed for much slicker production values instead of the usual lo-fi feel of his other films.
He still holds his shots for a much longer time than most directors would, but instead of constant static shots he has allowed himself the luxury of beautifully choreographed tracking shots and even some crane shots, imbuing the film with even more meaning as a result of the expanded access to cinematic language available to him. This may be a Lav Diaz film for people who don’t like Lav Diaz films, but damn if it isn’t a near perfect one.
9. Neighboring Sounds (Kleber Mendonca Filho, 2012, Brazil)
Mention Brazilian cinema and undoubtedly thoughts of the kinetic City Of God and Elite Squad or the Cinema Novo films of Glauber Rocha will surface. But this sensational debut from film critic Kleber Mendonca Filho brings a totally different, and maybe even new, approach as it subtly weaves in comments about class divisions in Brazil into its seemingly simple story of a middle class neighborhood adapting to a recent spate of petty crimes with the formation of some sort of neighborhood watch.
Not exactly slow as in filled with endless long takes, as Mendonca shows off a hugely impressive arsenal of film techniques, from not being afraid to use multiple shots and edits in a short scene to all manners of tracking movements and zooms, the film qualifies as slow in its dogged withholding strategy, and its architectural approach to what is usually associated with landscape photography.
To reveal more of the plot would be to spoil the pleasures of the film. Suffice to say that what initially plays like a slice of life film, complete with the requisite fly-on-the-wall style observations of the various domestic units from different social stratas that somehow converge in the neighborhood, slowly and eventually reveals itself to be some sort of menacingly understated thriller with a twist/reveal that will haunt viewers with its political and social significance.
8. Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, 2012, USA)
To think of this as a sort of slow cinema version of Before Sunrise is probably unfair to the kind of magisterial marvel that director Jem Cohen has managed to concoct with Museum Hours. True, it involves two people getting to know each other whilst walking around in the gorgeous city of Vienna, but its story of an elderly Vienna museum guard who befriends a similarly elderly visitor from Canada is only half the magic.
In fact there’s absolutely no romance involved here, as it’s one of those very few films about a genuinely platonic friendship developing between a man and a woman. Its real magic lies in its thesis that if we truly open our eyes and see, then we can see art everywhere, which the film supports by countlessly juxtaposing scenes from the painting of Pieter Bruegel the Elder with everyday scenes of normal life and mundane objects, composed by the director of course, that cannily evoke those paintings. It’s a film that really teaches the viewer to ‘see’.