7. Alamar (Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, 2009, Mexico)
When it comes to shimmering pictorial beauty, very few films can hold a candle to this sun-dappled docu-fiction hybrid that’s shot in the Banco Chinchorro, a coral reef in the Mexican Caribbean. It tells the very simple story of Jorge, who only has a few weeks before his five year old son Natan leaves to live with his mother in Rome.
Quite why the split happens, the film leaves tantalizingly open to interpretation. What the film is truly about is the bonding experience that the father and son has when Jorge decides to take Natan back to his fishing community, where they stay for two glorious weeks with Natan’s grandfather to do nothing but get back to nature and embrace the life of a fisherman. They go snorkeling, fishing, watch some crocodiles up close, play with birds, sleep on hammocks and live on whatever it is that they manage to catch that day.
Whether this simple life is preferable to the more modern life awaiting Natan in Rome is something that the film leaves the viewers to decide on. Those things can wait, for now just bask in the impossibly gorgeous beauty of the sun and the sea, and the lovely idyll that is this film.
6. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2009, Mexico)
A direct descendant, if not a sly retelling of Carl Th. Dreyer’s masterwork Ordet, Carlos Reygadas’ third film more than manages to equal the religious and spiritual heft of Dreyer’s classic.
If Ordet itself can hold claim to possessing a healthy amount of beautiful yet patience-testing scenes that build ever so slowly towards a stunning climax, Silent Light takes the whole thing even further with loads of beautifully composed and often static widescreen framing, none more so than the astonishing opening sequence in which the viewers are treated to watching the sun rise almost in real time.
What may sound like a dare on paper as an opening scene is ultimately crucial in establishing the film’s unashamed and ecstatic approach to religion and spirituality, as it follows a family in a Mennonite community somewhere in Northern Mexico, particularly the head of the household, Johan, who falls in love with another woman.
The slow unveiling of the family’s dynamics against the community’s religious dogma pays off spectacularly in an ending directly copped from Ordet that still doesn’t lose any of its emotional power.
5. Our Beloved Month Of August (Miguel Gomes, 2008, Portugal)
Another wonderful example of ‘in-between’ cinema, Our Beloved Month Of August might just be the most blissfully enjoyable film in the whole of the ‘in-between’ cinema canon. Discounting the pre-opening scene involving a set of dominoes knocked over by the film’s producer, in which Gomes appears as himself to be berated by the producer for procrastinating, for the first hour or so the film seems to be nothing more than a straight documentary about summer festivities in a mountainous region of Portugal.
Viewers are treated to a lot of dancing and a whole lot of music, mostly covers of popular songs by amateur regional bands as several characters slowly comes to the fore. Suddenly, somewhere just beyond the middle of the film, a wholly different film seems to emerge as a love story developing between two teenage cousins appears to be taking over, but this is obviously not a documentary.
It’s a bifurcation of narrative that’s so sly and imperceptible that even the great Apichatpong Weerasethakul might feel threatened. It’s in these endless games that the film plays with its viewers that its bountiful delights are to be found.
4. Syndromes And A Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006, Thailand)
Commissioned by Vienna’s New Crowned Hope festival, which is a multidisciplinary celebration honoring the 250th birthday of Mozart, this is the most blissful of Apichatpong’s films yet, and it’s no surprise since his aim, as written in a text he prepared for the festival, was to make a project that “will explore how we remember, how our sense of happiness can be triggered by seemingly insignificant things.”
To do this, the first part of the film recollects his parents’ courtship, set in a rural hospital and looking quite like it’s in the past. Things get trickier once the second part of film kicks in, in which a second set of characters undergo courtship as well, only it’s now set in an urban hospital looking quite like it’s in the present or the future.
It gets tricky because the second part seems to be an echo of the first part. In some cases, whole scenes or dialogue passages are repeated verbatim. Are they the same stories set in different periods? Or is the second set of characters reincarnations of the first? Whatever the viewer’s interpretation may be, there’s one sure thing when watching (and surrendering to) the movie – its endless echoes, variations, reprises, reflections and recollections will undoubtedly trigger all sorts of happiness.
3. Birdsong (El Cant Dels Ocells) (Albert Serra, 2008, Spain)
Albert Serra is almost like a rock star amongst fans of slow cinema, boldly going where very few dare to go with his adaptations of classic stories combined with the slow cinema aesthetic.
Birdsong is the apotheosis of this approach, as its story of the Three Wise Men on a journey to find the newly born baby Jesus is chock full of everything that made him special – his cheeky sense of humor, his almost perverse dedication to holding long shots that can sometime seem like provocation (but is necessary to convey the kind of effort made by the Three Wise Men on their quest) and an unmistakable gift for the sublime and the divine (particularly the moment when the Three Wise Men finally get to their destination and lie prostrate on the ground once they see the baby Jesus).
Refreshingly ancient in its devotion yet thoroughly modern in its form and execution, this is one of the greats of slow cinema.
2. La Libertad (Lisandro Alonso, 2001, Argentina)
To put it simply, this 70 minute film does nothing more than show 24 hours in the life of a woodcutter named Misael. It begins at night as he’s seen eating his dinner and ends the next night as he’s preparing dinner, which is again a meal of barbecued armadillo.
In between viewers will get to see him take a dump in the bushes, cut wood and prepare them to be picked up, call his mother on a public phone and generally go about the things that he (presumably) does every day.
And yet the experience of describing the mundane things that happen and watching them happen onscreen are totally worlds apart as director Lisandro Alonso, who’s making his debut here, proves to be an absolute natural and expert at showing just the right things and holding the shots for just the right amount of time to keep the viewers not only interested, but invested in the life this humble woodcutter. At the end of the 70 minutes, it feels like a privilege to have spent them in the company of Misael.
1. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, 2006, Portugal)
Hands down the best example of testing the viewer’s patience to the absolute limit, yet rewarding the brave with absolute beauty, this masterwork by Portuguese maverick Pedro Costa is simply one of the greatest films ever made, period.
At 150 minutes long, a film shot on DV mostly with natural light (and creative use of found-on-site mirrors as reflectors), on a tripod with nary a camera pan in sight and starring non-professionals who are actually slum dwellers of its Fontainhas location does not sound like it would produce much magic.
But the combination of the charisma of its lead character Ventura, the verbal poetry of his repeated readings of a letter that he wants to send to his wife back home in Cape Verde and the visual poetry of Costa’s astonishingly virtuosic composition and plays with light and shadow will hypnotize anyone watching it.
Author Bio: Aidil Rusli is a film geek who’s also the singer-songwriter of Malaysian power pop band Couple (www.facebook.com/wearecouple), and whose geekiness forces him to endlessly write about films in as many avenues and publications as he possibly can.