CIFF Exclusive: In Praise of Long Takes

Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Stray Dogs.” Courtesy of CIFF.

Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Stray Dogs.” Courtesy of CIFF.

One of the most refreshing things about an international film festival is its utter disinterest in catering to America’s overly indulged demographics. Studios are so petrified to lose their audiences that they urge filmmakers to cut anything from their picture that doesn’t simply “move the plot forward,” thus resulting in clipped, exposition-laden scenes that have been edited through a shredder. CIFF 2013 includes a rich assortment of films that provide a welcome antithesis to ADD-addled mainstream fare. Long takes not only capture nuances that would otherwise be lost on the cutting room floor, they cause time to slow down, inviting viewers to reflect on details that would otherwise be taken for granted. Here are three films at this year’s festival that illustrate the beauty of long takes…

Bluebird directed by Lance Edmands

Lesley is at her wit’s end. She’s a selfless creature, always placing the needs of others before her own. Yet even the gentle woman’s heart of gold can’t prevent her from making an error that could potentially result in catastrophe. Guilt seeps through her veins as she stands in her kitchen, chopping vegetables with the precision of an arthritic factory worker. It’s not long before the knife slices through her hand, though it’s unclear whether this wound was a mere accident. As her daughter races for a First Aid kit, the camera remains fixed on Lesley’s face in profile, as her expressionless façade crumbles frighteningly into a quaking visage of agony. This is a masterful showcase for the talents of Steppenwolf star Amy Morton, who will be present at all three screenings (Edmands will attend the first two).

Screens October 11th at 6:15pm, October 13th at 8:30pm and October 21st at 1:45pm.

Stray Dogs directed by Tsai Ming-Liang

Is there any profession more dehumanizing than the one witnessed in the opening scenes of this quietly devastating work from Taiwanese auteur Tsai? Struggling to feed his children while living in an abandoned building haunted by the yelps of starving dogs and the decay of past prosperity, a father is reduced to slaving for a paltry wage as a human billboard. We see him standing at his post as traffic starts and stops around him, oblivious to his suffering as he clenches his teeth amidst the rain-soaked wind. Roughly a quarter of the film has passed before we’re allowed a good look at this poor loner. In a spellbinding close-up, the man’s face exudes a fierce mixture of sorrow and rage as he recites words of poetry as if they are erupting from his fractured soul. If there is any image in modern cinema that encapsulates the wrenching woes of the economically and spiritually destitute, this is it.

Screens October 11th at 8:30pm and October 13th at 12:30pm.

Stranger by the Lake directed by Alain Guiraudie

Voyeuristic compulsion and forbidden desire are practically impossible to portray on film without implicating the audience in the process. Like “Stray Dogs,” this French thriller is completely devoid of a score, allowing erotic and malevolent tension to build silently within the deceptively tranquil landscape. When the picture’s central crime occurs, it is witnessed from a high angle, suggesting the voyeur hidden in the shadows—whether it be those of a forest or a theatre. Two heads bob in a lake, their silhouettes visible in the moonlight. A muted scuffle occurs, leading one head to become forcibly submerged in the water. It never resurfaces. The longer this shot is held, the more unsettling it becomes, as the sudden brutality of this hushed moment starts to sink in. Like the voyeur peeking through the trees, we’re stunned and sickened, but we can’t tear our eyes away.

Screens October 18th at 9:15pm and October 20th at 4:10pm.

For tickets and other festival info, click here.

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