Film festivals like MAMI are where you detox yourself from bad cinema-watching habits acquired through the year. Much like an addict getting slowly used to being weaned off, it’s hard at first, but immensely rewarding, once you are purged.
Among the habits forced upon us by many ‘commercial’ films, which generally care little about mood and subtext, is impatience. When you’re eager to consume what’s coming next, you often miss out on the finer details of what’s being shown.
One of the films I caught on Wednesday — Wildlife starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan — is the sort to seem testing for the impatient viewer. It’s a film about the slow erosion of a family of three — Jerry, Jeanette, and their teenage son, Joe — and as is the case with many marital relationships, this happens not suddenly, but over a course of time, and over a course of seemingly not so explosive events.
This deterioration is explored through the perspective of Joe, who slowly awakens to the idea of his parents not being so ideal. The seeming ‘slow’ pace of the film is simply the filmmaker allowing you time to breath in the details, to soak in the slow detonation of the family.
Of the films I caught in MAMI, Aditya Sengupta’s Jonaki is perhaps the one that most showed this persistence to dwell on its moments. At the end of the screening, an audience member asked the director about this seeming ‘slowness’ of pace, and Aditya proceeded to dismantle an idea or two that’s generally held over pace in films.
“For me, one of the slowest films I’ve ever seen is Fast and Furious. I have no patience for it,” he said, suggesting that ultimately, it all boils down to individual taste. Music and films, he added, are sculptures in time. “How much time I show you a shot depends on what details I want you to observe. Whether or not you actually notice the things I want you to, depends on who you are.”
A scene can be shot to play for 15 seconds or 15 minutes, depending on how much detail a filmmaker wants you to notice. This explains the opening scene of Jonaki — a film well worth watching again — that has the lingering close-up of an old woman’s wizened face.
At first, you observe the face, and you expect the shot to change. But it doesn’t. So, you then notice the wrinkles, all the fascinating contours. The shot still remains. You notice the eyes, the shape of the nose, the wrinkles on the forehead. You observe what old age does to a face, and in a sense, your knowledge of the condition of old age is on some level enhanced.
This is why Wildlife dwells on its moments, on its imagery of Montana. The raging wild fire could well be a metaphor for the burning issues in the Jerry-Jeanette residence, and you better soak them all in.
For, if we watch films to experience the lives of others, we may as well soak them in the splendour of all the detail. If we can be patient enough, that is.