Tired of the mindless and obnoxious effects laden summer blockbusters inundating the multiplex? Looking for something adventurous and contemplative that forces you to slow down and take in what a director has constructed on screen? Then try a variety of films from all around the world that constitute examples of "slow cinema," and are available through the library. In the past couple of decades directors have emerged from Hungary and Iran to Thailand and Taiwan, who have varying ties to each other artistically and have developed films with long and studious takes meant to be more reflective of reality. While some frame scenes with immobile cameras, others track and follow actors for lengthy periods as they traverse a variety of landscapes.
If you are not accustomed to this style of cinema, then start with Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda whose Still Walking was just acquired by the library. In Still Walking, Kore-eda utilizes a slower pace to portray the mundane activities of an older couple as they work towards a commemoration slowly revealing the history of their lives together. Kore-eda subtle camerawork quietly builds the tension and captures the characters lives with an honesty non-existent in most modern films.
Another director from this category includes the leader of the Taiwanese New Wave film movement, Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Considered by some to be one of the most important filmmakers alive, Hsien's films often contain static shots and understated long takes which gradually allow the narrative to develop, while never overwhelming the viewer with melodramatic portrayals. Often his films revolve around alienated and purposeless Taiwanese youth and underworld figures, or historical films reflective of the changing culture in Taiwan. The most recent film by Hsien to be released in the U.S. is Flight of the Red Balloon, which was inspired by the classic French short film, and tells the story of a young boy living with his mother who is a preoccupied actress.
Hailing from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul has started gaining worldwide recognition after winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival for Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives. Currently Uncle Boonmee is on order from the library, but you can still check out Syndromes and a Century, which tells the story of the director's parents who were doctors, with one story set in a rural Thai hospital, and the other set in a modern Bangkok medical center. The film has a free flowing narrative consisting of vignettes which possess a dream-like quality focused on capturing genuinely simple and humane moments.
A film which actually challenges our modern lifestyle and methods of communication comes from the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. In Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us, a small village is visited by a filmmaker attempting to film the village's mourning rituals as an old woman dies. However, the woman does not die and the man finds himself dealing with life in the village as he waits for her death. The film provides several humorous moments in this poetic and transcendental work, which seemingly anticipated narrative developments in world cinema for the coming decade.
Although some of these films may not be easily digestible at first, they provide a wide variety of simple reflections which illuminate the world around us in ways summer blockbusters never will. Hopefully you will find the experience rewarding.