Ann Arbor Film Festival Day 2: Minotaur, News From Home, and Couting

Second verse, same as the first.

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Minotaur: Imagine Tsai, only with more of an emphasis on the uselessness of human bodies. Here characters lie around aimlessly, falling asleep right in front of others. Their languid bodies match up with the slow pace, giving a feeling of time standing still. Taking place in seemingly one apartment, three bodies occupy the space and use it as a festering hole. The interiors are painted pure white and furnished perfectly. It’s the humans who are in trouble here. This was shown after two other shorts, “Ofrenda oaxaqueña” and “Impresiones para una máquina de luz y sonido,” both of which gave context for this one. Mexico in its current turbulent state needs change to occur. The three main apartment dwellers block themselves off from the outside world. In shelter, books can be read and days can go on peacefully. But the ultimate sacrifice for this inactive life comes with the slow decay of their bodies. There’s a semblance of nostalgia here for earlier times (there’s not one smartphone to be seen in the whole short), and yet that nostalgia doesn’t get nobody anywhere. It’s a film stopped in time, one that may collapse in on itself at any moment. I’m still relatively new to slow cinema, but this movie is formally accomplished enough that boredom never became an issue. It serves its purpose then ends, an excellent use of minimalist filmmaking tendencies to express quiet outrage.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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News From Home Ever since her passing, Chantal Akerman’s work has received newfound recognition that sadly comes to many only with passing. I had never seen a work by her until today, and I still feel a bit out of the loop on discussing her work. Akerman narrates letters sent from her mother over footage of New York, creating a feeling of longing for separation and comfort from one’s family. Multiple times throughout the film, the narration is drowned out by outside noises in New York. This could be done to either a) give a sense that Akerman’s new life begins to overshadow her former one with her family or b) to reinstate the power of the images at hand. My biggest problem with this is that the film’s sole point of focalization comes from the letters Akerman reads. Without them, all personal connection to the story ends. What you largely end up with is images of New York, sometimes barely populated and other times with onlookers taking notice of Akerman’s camera. It’s interesting on its own, but never engaging. This is where I start to feel like a bad cinephile. Maybe there’s something here I’m just not getting, or I need more experience in the world to understand the emotions Akerman is channeling. I’m willing to accept either, but for now I’m a bit hesitant to pursue her other works (although I will eventually seek them out).

Rating: 6 out of 10

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CountingI’m a bit surprised this film has flown so under the radar, considering what preceded it. Museum Hours garnered a decent critical following, yet this film was in theaters for about a week in New York before seemingly disappearing. I would argue Cohen’s newest feature isn’t any better than his last, but it still perplexes me a little. My biggest problem with Hours was its determination to stick with a philosophy that I don’t really think merits discussion (“Everything is interesting and worthy in life,” something I would argue for in fifth grade), so it surprised me that Cohen has gone to the opposite spectrum with Counting: having no real center to tie everything down. A film in 15 chapters, the individual moments are usually interesting on their own (the one with all of the mirrors could’ve been it’s own feature), but fail to build a cohesive message. By the halfway point, everything begins to have a hint of tediousness to it that boils over into full on monotony. There’s only so much filmmaking I can take before I call bullshit on a film’s (lack of) overall view.  There’s a loose thread that comes toward the end about Cohen’s sick mother, but he drops it relatively quickly. The only thing that could be considered a grand thesis here is Cohen going, “THIS IS HOW I SEE THE WORLD. ISN’T IT WEIRD AND ODDLY CONNECTED?” And to that I would say this is at least an hour too long for something so simple. It’s a piece with parts greater than the whole, making me want to now check out Cohen’s shorts more than anything.

Rating: 5 out of 10