We live in a fast-paced world where slow and silent are synonymous with, well, bland and boring, especially in movies. But that may only be because many of us haven’t yet been exposed to slow cinema and, thus, aren’t appreciative of its merits. Let’s start with a few things about it – what it is, what its best examples are, and how to appreciate them – so that we can appreciate slow movies shown in theaters like Marcus Theaters.
Slow Cinema Defined
Slow cinema is real! Basically, it’s a form of art cinema with emphasis on minimalist production, long takes, and observational approach, as well as characterized by little to no narrative. Indeed, it’s known as contemplative cinema for a reason – audiences are likely to enter into a contemplative state where every moment onscreen can be savored and enjoyed.
In contrast, most Hollywood movies are frenetic with nearly every scene filled with back-and-forth dialogues and fast-paced action. The audience doesn’t really have time to sit back and relax because they have to be on their toes, figuratively speaking, and miss out on the dialogue and action.
Most of the directors and films in slow cinema are understandably unknown to audiences of mainstream movies. But for fans of slow cinema, they are rock stars in their own right – Ben Rivers (Two Years at Sea), Shaun Wilson (51 Paintings), and Michelangelo Frammartino (Le Quattro Volte).
In recent years, many more filmmakers have released slow films. We loved Claire Denis’ High Life, a film that’s generating buzz for its stillness. Such is its notable quality that many critics have likened it to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, a science fiction film known for its seminal approach to stillness.
Denis, of course, isn’t new to slow cinema. Her White Material film (2009) depicts a struggling coffee producer’s life as she struggles during an impending civil war, and her struggles are depicted in quietude, stillness and calmness. Such an approach is in sharp contrast, and deliberately so, to the chaos around her – and it must be said that her character develops not through dialogue but through deliberate movements.
But how do directors of slow cinema convey such quietude and stillness? The best directors use long duration shots tracking shots, and static shots, as well as panning effects combined with a narrative focus on the ordinary aspects of everyday life.
If you’re used to fast-paced movies by the likes of Michael Bay, Ang Lee and Quentin Tarantino, then you likely won’t get what slow movies are all about. But with practice, usually accompanied by a truly relaxed state of mind, you will learn to appreciate slow films. You may even agree that slow films are a welcome respite from the noise of mainstream movies, a way to appreciate life at a slower pace.
Slow Cinema’s Merits
Even Hollywood with its abundance of action movies – the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, the Fast and Furious series, and the Transformers franchise immediately come to mind – is recognizing the merits of slow cinema. Take, for example, Roma that won several awards at the 2019 Oscars including best director, best cinematography, and best foreign language film.
Roma was critically praised for its slow cinema aesthetics, from its focus on the ordinary things in everyday life to its use of tracking and panning shots. We have to say that the opening sequence isn’t boring – just a nine-minute show of the mundane with women mopping the floors and walking through the house – but it somehow put us in a contemplative state.
While there are criticisms that Roma isn’t exactly a pure slow film, it’s a great introduction to slow cinema for beginners. There’s a great balance between the slow scenes and the narrative for it not to be too boring for mainstream audiences.
Slow cinema also ties in well with kalsarikänni, Hygge and gezellig, all of which are European practices that espouse stillness and quietness amidst the noise of the modern world. The Dutch gezellig, translated as contentment or coziness, as well as Finnish kalsarikänni (drinking at home, alone and in your underwear) are lifestyle movements that encourage people to escape the noise in their lives and escape the rat race, as well as enjoy the small things in life.
But where to start with slow cinema? We suggest these films that we think are among the best in the genre.
Wendy and Lucy (2008, United States)
Michelle Williams takes on the role of a drifter travelling to Alaska for a job but whose car breaks down somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Kelly Reichardt, its director, did an excellent job because he successfully balanced heartbreaking scenes with an urgent tension bordering on a thriller film.
The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu (2005, Romania)
Nothing happens. This is the premise of Cristi Puiu’s film but while nothing seems to happen onscreen, something’s happening in your heart. The film is a black comedy that follows the story of a 63-year old drying man suffering from chest pains and whose case has been passed from one hospital to the next. Yes, it doesn’t sound much but the emotional impact is there.
Try slow films and you may yet expand your repertoire!