Slow Burning Cinema

Photo courtesy of: Sailko
by Frankie Hallam

Scrolling through Netflix, a pastime anyone on the ol’ job search knows all too well, an option that caught my curiosity was Andrew Haigh’s 2015 drama 45 Years. To those of the Fast and Furious/Expendables/Transformers genre persuasion, the movie might have felt like the namesake reflected the length of the content due to the lack of discernible events in the plot. But what this particular piece of cinematic mastery made me question was, what’s the rush? Filmmaking is about conveying emotion, reflecting the gory bits of humanity back at us, and in slow, understated narrative this can be done in a heartbreaking and poignant manner.

45 Years centres on the marriage between Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), and the impending celebrations of their 45th wedding anniversary. Tom occasionally slips into alzheimers-esque memory loss (the condition is never addressed but its suggestion is integral to the narrative), but they’re happily married and somehow still haven’t fallen into the oft-portrayed marital realm of despising each others’ presence after nearly half a century together. Tom then receives a letter containing the unsettling news that the body of his ex-girlfriend of 50 years has been found, perfectly preserved at 27 in ice in the Swiss Alps after falling through a hole in the ground on a mountaineering trek they took together. This is the plot device that provides the hole that Kate spends the rest of the movie trying not to fall down herself.

As Tom’s obsession over reliving his memories with ‘my Katia’ (I’m going to take a wild guess and say that her name’s similarity to Kate’s was not a directorial mistake) grows, Kate begins to question if 45 years now means something completely different for the couple. The implicit, haunting question of the film is whether you can ever really know another person, regardless of how long you spend together. Andrew Haigh’s ability to create a crescendo of chest-tightening tension in a completely calm setting is one I personally haven’t experienced before. This isn’t to say that other examples of cinematic tension such as the iconic ‘dun un dun un’ of Spielberg’s Jaws or the high-pitched violin screeches of Hitchcock’s Psycho leave anything to be desired for an audience, but the complete avoidance of melodrama here makes for an extremely emotional watching experience.

Another example of a great slow-burner is Noal Baumbach’s 2012 comedy drama Frances Ha. This one has another layer to get through if you’re not into your art house and slightly pretentious cinema; it’s in black and white. Please also don’t be put off by the opening two minutes where you watch the two central female characters do a succession of slightly irritating activities, such as tickle fighting, tap dancing in parks and reading out snobby excerpts from the newspaper. It’s only 2 minutes, I swear.

Again, if someone were to ask you what happens you might be slightly at a loss, because nothing really happens worth writing home about. What the film does, arguably of equal importance, is give you an honest insight into the life of Frances Halliday (Greta Gerwig), a 20-something trying to figure out what to do with herself. As a graduate in a similar position, I see the film as a perceptive visualization of a time that many people go through as they transition from teenager to adult. This time is about trying to pay for a date with the money you just got from a tax rebate, only for your card to be declined and having to sprint a few kilometers to the next ATM. It’s also about eating an egg bagel that your housemate’s one night stand made you and internet acquiring a pair of sunglasses you’ve been searching for months, therefore having a constructive day. The film encourages us to know that in finding happiness in the little things we are not unsuccessful. Having your shit together, with a stable job and a stable relationship isn’t always what creates satisfaction.

What I think I’m trying to say here is that we can all find it hard to slow our lives down and take some time to think. These films reflect a lot about real human interaction, the pain and the happiness, and if we can be patient enough to try and find that, we can take away so much more than we might scrolling through Instagram for the 2 hours these movies take to watch. If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing, but maybe give one of these a go on a rainy day.

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