Into great silence | Bleader

Into great silence



One of the quiet, quiet hillsides of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  • One of the quiet, quiet hillsides of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
All movies serve as escapism: no matter what you’re watching, it’s always someone else’s experience. As I argued in this week’s issue, the recent art film The Kid With a Bike works as escapist entertainment because its writer-directors, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, incorporate aspects of popular storytelling to bring greater urgency to a realistic story. There’s a similar interaction between fantasy and realism in much of the so-called Slow Cinema that’s become a familiar presence at film festivals in the past decade (Sukhdev Sandhu provided an overview of the trend in the Guardian a few weeks ago). This strain of contemporary art cinema, named after its predilection for longer takes, generally eschews music and dialogue for naturalistic sound design and nonverbal action. For cosmopolitan spectators, the films offer momentary escape from the white noise (of cell phones, televisions, traffic, etc) that pervades so much of daily life.

A heightened sense of quietude shapes a couple of current releases, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (which just concluded a one-week run at the Music Box) and Bruno Dumont’s Hors Satan (which screens again on Wednesday at the Film Center). Both films, sans music after the current fashion, take place in small towns and wide-open terrain like fields, plains, and dunes. With few man-made sounds competing for our attention, natural phenomena like wind and tides register more powerfully than they do outside the theater: it’s as though some great engineer in the sky were tweaking life’s sound mix. Characters in these movies seem alternately larger than life and terribly small. On the one hand, everything they say feels significant against the absence of chatter; on the other, the far-traveling natural sounds remind us of the immensity of the world that they (and we) inhabit.

I wonder if these films play differently for rural spectators, for whom it isn’t unusual to go for a walk without hearing people talk on cell phones. It’s possible that the Slow Cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Blissfully Yours, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), Lisandro Alonso (Los Muertos, Liverpool), or James Benning (Ten Skies, RR) is a delicacy just for urbanites, who’ve gotten so used to fighting for silence that it now seems exotic.