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Slow Cinema, more than pretentious and boring

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In an age where the average shot length of films such as The Bourne Ultimatum and Batman Begins is less than two seconds, where the audiences’ attentions are strung along by thousands of exciting cuts and bombastic sound scores, it is important to observe calmness and time, and the natural beauty and poetry therein.

Andrei Tarkovsky recalled “I think that what a person normally goes to cinema for is time”, the idea that in the escapism from our frantic lives we seek naturally seek time. Although when we think escapism, we think those big Hollywood movies where cars, robots (sometimes both), aliens and shlock b-list stars race to save the world from *insert flaccid 2-dimension threat here*. What we should seek is not this increasing maximalism in film, but minimalism – that’s the point Tarkovsky was trying to make – we should not seek to be stimulated beyond point but to meditate.

There is a movement which acknowledges this human need for time, unironically called “Slow Cinema”: opting for ambient noises or field recordings, subdued visual schemes that require the viewer’s eye to do more work, long takes, often minimalist, observational, and with little or no narrative. Or in more cosmopolitan language – pretentious and boring.

Among Tarkovsky advocating the movement is director Béla Tarr, whose films are often of rural Hungarian life (and the placid observation of the human condition to be found in farmers’ lives), are sometimes 7 hours long and in black-and-white. Recently deceased Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” has a runtime as long as its name. Almost 4 hours about the drab, repetitive existence of a widowed housewife, the humdrum domestic chores, and her job as an occasional prostitute, which keeps her financially afloat. Lest we forget 10 hour Holocaust documentary Shoah. It gets to the point where the film is so long it begins to question the nature of memory and perception – leaving the audience with more of a deep-set feeling than a tangible narrative.

But it’s also more than just a film’s running time; famed 1960s director Michelangelo Antonioni utilised tone, pace and visuals, over normal narrative, to explore themes on the human condition, particularly on the development and decay of feeling. His “L’Avventura” can be described as one of the seminal films of the Slow Cinema movement. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to Matthew” uses this emphasis of feeling to more deeply explore the story of Christ, a striking contrast to his most famous work “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom”.  Czechoslovakian film “Marketa Lazarová” uses the methods of Slow Cinema to emphasise its feeling of déjà-vu, of memory, in the retelling of a centuries-old legend – the whole film ends up being quite dream-like, feeling like the envisagement of a campfire story.

If you watch any of these films you’re left with a deep sense of understanding, like finishing a long novel you’re given a feeling, almost an aesthetic, and you’re given a sense of time and meditation that any action-packed blockbuster can’t give. Meditation is scientifically proven to help you deal with stress, promote creativity, increase focus, reduce anxiety, and even improve relationships – so if you can get over the “pretentious and boring” nature of these films then they really are incredibly worth your time.

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