Rahil Patel

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Category Archives for: Film Reviews

Des hommes et des dieux

14 October 2014 by Rahil

After watching a recent film by my favorite film director, I found on Wikipedia it was commended by the jury that awards the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. It is one of the juries of the Cannes Film festival with an objective to “honour works of artistic quality which witnesses to the power of film to reveal the mysterious depths of human beings through what concerns them, their hurts and failings as well as their hopes.”. From my experience of the few films I’ve seen in the list, and of the many directors of films who’ve I’ve seen, it seems this is a great source of philosophy in film. After finding that, I decided to print it out and plaster it next to a few other syllabi I have for my temporary self-education.

I hope to continue to watch the rest of the films in the list, thinking deeply of the actions people take, how they came to decide it, the effects of external forces, and whatever other questions may arise.

Continuing the trend starting from the last film I had watched of posting my thoughts, as opposed to reviewing a film, and forcing me to review my thoughts, edits appear in square brackets “[]“, what follows are my thoughts during the viewing of Des hommes et des dieux (Of Gods and Men).

My Thoughts:
How do people form convents? Need a source: evangelists. Is just finding the bible enough for people to teach it? [Reminds me of a short story by Borjes in Ficciones]. This surely must have died in developed countries where internet is prevalent.

The priests read religious texts (Quran, St. Francis de Assisi, etc.), absolutely naive to dogmatic material.

The framing the in this and Like Father Like Son are varied. Sometimes faces takes a fourth of the screen. Sometimes the camera moves with transit or people walking. [Zoom is necessary. Stabilization not so, but nice to have.]

Life would have been quite different without the internet, and Wikipedia.

Religion and culture is always weird to me because they are dogmas. They don’t make practical sense. Senseless traditions. It’s amazing how much time people have to spend on these things. Neither have monetary value. Neither is real work: the movement of objects or knowledge [science].

These things (religion, culture, government) form because people are social [Aristotle], which later leads to the formation of laws.

The priests do their work, ignoring the world, like the father in the last film did his — without play, following dogma. [Priests are like strict parents]

Film could be a great way to make an argument!

The priest choses not to take action (via reaction). A passive life?

So much time wasted while working [in the field or praying]. They could be listening to audiobooks!

If a religious armed person shares your own religion, you might be okay [safe], it seems.

This is another very good film of ethical decisions.

Both films do often use depth of field.

A progressive character in a convent? Interesting. I guess it’s because he’s the youngest. [It takes a habitual life over time to lose sight of progressivism]. Also interesting people sometimes desire to live outside of the convent, or at least the thought comes about during a dangerous time; During an earlier time in life, they decided to leave their homes to live a life “for Christ”.

If one lives in such a style for 60 years, would one change to another? Only if one is forced to, or comes across some serious event to change one’s mind.

Technology won’t arrive there any time soon, neither would have many books.

The priests are very familial, caring for each other like mothers.

As a kid the youngest priest wanted to be a missionary. He must have been exposed to missionaries really early.

I read that these kinds of priests rarely idly talk. I think that adds to their conduciveness to dogmatic beliefs. Dialogue, is the social way of gaining intelligence, with peers, not ancient authorities.

Getting sleepy here…

It seems the main priest entails a bias in his speeches. Saying their actions [to stay at the convent] now matter, because their incarnations [does Christianity even have incarnation?] depend on it. Even another priest says it’s okay to die — “who ever saves their life shall die, whoever shall lose it preserves it”. Well, I guess people use prayers to justify their actions?

They only give into pleasure when nearing death: wine and music. Such an awful life — the disciplined one. [Perhaps it is only possible to live such a dull life with abstinence. And, perhaps, the abstinence of pleasure leads to a passive life, a lack of reaction, and therefore, action.] There are no bad effects to several kinds of pleasure. They react profoundly. So much emotional response from the music, an artificial stimulus.

The film gives good insight to the lives of these kinds of lifestyles though. [Buddhists may be compared to them.]

Remote communities give opportunity to remote [guerilla-style] crimes. Guerrilla warfare almost requires far flung groups of people: easy targets.

Why don’t people travel to cities? Some travel there for goods [one priest brought wine and cheese from what I believe is a place of higher population]. The priests wouldn’t be needed if the village just transported to the city. Does this village provide goods for the city? Farming? Yeah, I guess that’s the reason.

With the internet, farms must be an okay place to live now, maybe even nice for people who enjoy a quiet life. Still, a dangerous choice in life, and narrow in knowledge. Even with the internet, people are social animals, and if one limits their social life with people in their village, it limits their knowledge — such an absurd phenomena. [todo: explore reasons for differences in amount of knowledge, if any, between cities and villages (I consider suburbs a contemporary form of a village)***]

The film is horrendously slow. Though, some ideas do require a lengthy experience to really digest. I could have read the synopsis of the film, but would I have similarly digested it? Perhaps I can try afterward. Perhaps it’s similar to reading a book and it’s synopsis: one doesn’t have much material and time (pacing), to formulate why things happened.

The subject of the film is why each priest made the decision (if any) to stay. What’s not shown is the other side of decision-making: the insurgents. Did each of the insurgents decide to follow people who making unethical killings? Perhaps there was even less brain activity on their side.

Though not much communication exists between the priests, they are intelligent, especially found in the testament by Christian given at the end of the film. He knows how discrimination lead to conflicts; He loves the country and it’s people, even if they kill him. Perhaps an exemplar of non-violence. [the first communication between the insurgents was a very good example of non-violent communication, and it was successful]

Hah, Amadee lived for another 12 years, indeed outliving them all.

Further watching: Battle of Algiers.

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Like Father Like Son

12 October 2014 by Rahil

My favorite film director, Hirokazu Koreeda, film from 2013, Like Father Like Son, continues his consistent master-craft.

I personally have not seen a film in many months because I was living a very social life, and it had become quite difficult to become engaged with a video from a screen.

I’ve been in my parent’s house for more than a month, slowly transforming from a manic to a sloth, from peak creativity to hibernation. Finally, I gave in to watching a film, allowing some one else to direct my thoughts.

Instead of giving a review, I’ve decided to just post my thoughts during the film. I watched it in two sessions, the first, actively philosophical, and the second, more similar to my college days — absolutely mesmerized. And so, my thoughts are divided as such, unequal in length.

My Thoughts:
session one:
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to watch a film, and even when I did, the content of the film matched the lifestyle I was living in, for example, Tsai-Ming Liang films while living on the streets of Taiwan.

I can’t help to philosophize while watching, not of art aesthetic, but of knowledge.

Japan, school and work is so artificial: both appear like offices.

It is always more interesting to watch films of places one is unfamiliar with. If one watches films that take place in corporate America, one doesn’t realize it’s even there.

An old thought: to choose media is uncreative. Why consume it in the first place? Does it really substitute an experience?

The family lives in a house, and schedules life by time, and forcing a schedule on their child. No external stimulus is at play. No time to play games.

Watching the life of house people is odd. What are they really doing? Following something they practiced, that society taught, or parents taught? How did they choose their current daily actions? Japanese people are so robotic. I wonder, did they always live in sepearate housing? Whereas South Asians lived together in large families? [I googled a good article to read]

Japanese people sure do have giant libraries. Perhaps the reason why their culture is so insular is because their consumption is so [harks negative affects of suburbs thought]. If one lives in a suburban house, one consumed what’s in the house, not outside. What’s inside is media: manga, cute books, Japanese movies, etc.

My view of life has quite changed. As I watch the film, I notice more. I see that the house exists. It’s artificial. Their lives are determined by social interaction. Like watching people as I travel, I watch this film, the people at the wedding, my family. It is interesting to see what actions people take, rather than take action myself.

The family has an expensive DSLR, and the kid knows how to use it, without thinking of its affects or it’s existence.

This film is fucking great, in pacing, tracking shots to provide thinking time, gestalts, setting.

The wife’s mother highly regards people with money.

An idea from another person affected an individual, greatly.

It’s quite similar to A Separation, in that an ethical argument is given, and portrayed realistically and masterfully.

Education, knowledge, social determinism, it’s all here.

Which education is better? Planned or playful. Clearly playful environment. But the father shouldn’t always act so childish to the kids, should he?

The grandmother feels the home is like a hotel, as do the other couple’s kid. The amount of knowledge that pours from this film is more vast and succinct than that of most writers of the Western Canon.

“Don’t you think that, for kids, giving them time is everything.”

The father only realizes this now, after being raised in such a competitive society, he forgot the value of spending time. So isolated from life, so robotic.

Classic nature vs nurture debate.

The father is taking more part in the decision, although he spent far less time. A problem of gender inequality.

session two:
I just watched it as I did films in college, without philosophical analysis, profoundly.

“Spending time” is experience. Is it because I had little experience with my family, neither parent, I do not feel my parent’s house is my home? My parent’s first house was home because my friends lived on the same street. My parent’s second house is not.

after the film [at a suburban home, alone]:
After watching the film I had a long dream of treating mom and documenting it. “Taking Mom to Taiwan”. I would just record times I spend with her, showing a slow recovery from the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, and later piece then together with some transition scenes for time to contemplate between, like Koreeda’s films. I was quite successful in the treatment, as she then lived a healthy life in Taiwan, with her own Indian food shop. We both went to some film festival and won. I hadn’t told her about the film, and we just had fun and talked over the mic. I asked her a few serious questions for the audience, and she answered them. After that, I thanked a few Asian directors for their contemplative films, and Koreeda for being the impetus for the film, and Taiwan, for showing me life.

It seems, in the suburbs, I constantly substitute action with daydreaming.

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河流

06 February 2014 by Rahil

I watched 河流 (The River) in a still funky mood, unable to respond to external stimuli, isolated from the world.

The more films of Tsai Ming-Liang I watch, the more I feel similar to him. Or is it, because my current state of depression that I feel similar to the feelings his films express?

Like Tsai’s other films, it contains common themes: extreme isolation, water leaks, a slow, contemplative pace, and even similar characters. After watching a few of his films, one starts to believe that the main character is based on him, and perhaps the family is based off his own. Maybe his films are the extremes of his family.

When I started traveling, I had fascination with what people do, especially craftsmen that could be seen on the first level of buildings, or on streets of Asia. Similarly, I feel Tsai has this fascination as the processes of a chiropractor, acupuncture, prayers, and other traditional ceremonies are shown. He also has an eye for unseen places: a traditional bathhouse, a temple, old apartments, a river. Tsai sees the world as a traveler, a foreigner, and therefore it is interesting, because everything feels new. As Jenova Chen states in one of the three ways games could effect adults as they do children, the film “intellectually, whereby the work reveals a new perspective about the world that you have not seen before.”

A random note: Media is always shown on the side in his films. It seems he feels media is not real. It shouldn’t affect the lives of people so much.

Kang’s character is selfish, independent, yet needs help, nurture. When near his father he doesn’t feel hungry. He’s not experiencing life during these times. He needs be on his own.

The film is overwhelmingly bleak. Although there are very tension-ridden scenes, I didn’t feel as much drama here as his first two films because of the bleakness. Still there are very strong scenes.

After a male Oedipus Rex plot twist, there’s an image of his father, black and blue hues with a speck of white light in his eyes that haunts far after, which segues into the main character going into the light, unwittingly.

The strongest scene for me was the mother’s reaction after seeing her son in the hospital. She leans in an elevator, pressing the close button and random floors, unable to make her next move. Actually, the scene sums the film. All of the characters suffer like neck pain from extreme isolation, a lack of nurture, and love. Out of desperation, they look for nurture in wrong places, unable to move on, stuck, in an elevator.

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幫幫我愛神

01 February 2014 by Rahil

I coincidentally watched 幫幫我愛神 (Help me, Eros) directed by 李康生 (Lee Kang Sheng) and produced by long-time collaborator 蔡明亮 (Tsai Ming Liang) during a depression.

Similar to Tsai Ming Liang’s films, it’s minimalist, containing four characters, all of whom suffer from city isolation.

Compared to Tsai Ming Liang’s early films (Rebels of the Neon God and Vive L’Amour), Help me, Eros has more fantastic elements. It contains at least one dream, and the sex scene is quite dreamy too. The eccentric costumes of betel nut girls, the neon lights of the stand, the upscale apartments, all add to the fantastic atmosphere.

Yet, it is nearly all naturally shot in some random city in Taiwan. The blend of contemporary realism and fantasy forms a dark reality. The call center and stock market provide a good view of underrepresented occupations at the time. Betel nut beauties are real too [I live in Taiwan]. Technology is included, with the use of instant messaging, even more specifically a situation where the profile picture is used, and even the Asian-necessary selfie. Another great example of the blend: brand printed logos (think Gucci) are shot across the bodies of the characters during a threesome.

The isolation here is possibly even more extreme, perhaps at the sacrifice of realism, than Tsai’s early films. A tub full of eels, an ostrich omelette, fucking three girls simultaneously, marijuana plants, millions of dollars wasted, a carp being scraped alive, an ostrich fetus. Gluttony of extremely isolated people in Taiwan. Something that probably has never been shown before.

Yet, despite the extremes, the characters feel real. Betel nut beauties derived from a marketing campaign in a farming area in Taiwan. At one point the Betel nut girl goes back to farm, crying, missing a moment she had, only to come back and proceed to sell Betel nuts. The chubby character Cupcake is fat because her boyfriend is in the army, and later found dead by poison. The main character is a trope, but even I’ve experienced a few people like him in my life: rich and lonely.

The film plays fine throughout at a familiar pace. I didn’t have to take a break.

Still, for some reason, perhaps it was the fantastic elements, or the lack of dramatic elements, or even my own state of depression, the climax of the film didn’t have a profound effect on me as Tsai’s earlier films have. The characters are there, but I cared less for them. Perhaps it is because the characters are older, already transformed and fallen into their occupations. In Tsai’s earlier films, the characters are younger, the arcade street kid in Rebels… and a masturbating teen in Vive L’Amour are relatable. Help Me, Eros felt more like an observance of underserved people in extreme states. There is little transformation of the characters. Actually, now that I think about it, there is none. All of the positive actions failed; Nothing changes. All of the characters continue on their initial path, deceived by hope during loneliness.

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Distance

17 January 2014 by Rahil

Prologue:
I didn’t know about the event it’s based on, just as I didn’t know about the event Nobody Knows was based on.

Body:
Distance by Hirokazu Koreeda is powerful because the psychology of the characters feel real, and it questions the differences between perpetrators and non-perpetrators.

The film starts with a sci-fi plot. A cult-titled group of people poisoned Tokyo waters, which kills and injures many. Gladly, it’s not a sci-fi flick either.

It quickly jumps to real characters shown in their natural settings, a glimpse of each character’s lives. Each character with a different personality and time in life.

They meet in pairs. Then, altogether, they embark their journey, and it feels like a travel film, one of a group of friends who haven’t met for quite some time. A hand-held camera follows the action, by car and by foot. As they meet each other, we (the audience) also meet them, understand them, and feel for them.

Once the car is gone, a sense of horror emerges. Gladly, it’s not a horror flick. Although, the rest of the film remains haunting.

After mourning the group’s car gets stolen and they meet with one of the remaining cult members and sleep at the cult’s hideout. It becomes night. The camera gives a beautiful dark hue. The character’s emotions are mirrored by their dark images, splotches of black across their face.

Flashbacks of their cult counterparts string more bits of story, before and after they joined the cult. Before, they are shown in a mystic atmosphere, appearing quite normal. After, quite crazy when in contact with normal society.

Flashback interviews of each relative at a previous time, probably real interviews of each actor as Koreeda conducted for After Life and previous documentary works, adds even more realism and character.

As with watching any of Koreeda’s films, one deeply contemplates. The film’s lack of action and consistent display of characters asks for contemplation. About the character’s lives (the family’s relatives), their cult siblings, and how the average person can be swayed into doing something wrong without feeling one is doing something wrong. The difference between good and bad is a state of psychology.

As the relatives sit in the living room or around a fire, and contemplate about their siblings, god, and life, one can imagine them as a cult. How are the different from their siblings? If they stay in that room for a long period of time, would they begin to develop certain values different from the norms of society? How do societies develop? If any group of people is stuck in a room, what are the chances of the outcome being wrong?

Instead of directly showing motives, who, what, or why something wrong happens, we take a moment to conjecture how something wrong forms, and in doing so, it provides a more truthful answer.

Epilogue:
It’s been 1 year and 3 months since I left the States. This film strikes the first moment I’ve spent hours afterwards in wonder.

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Vive L’Amour

12 January 2014 by Rahil

I watched Vive L’Amour (愛情萬歲; Live Love) at a coincidental time. Just a few weeks ago, I was extremely social. I had class, friends within the locality, always eating with people, not spending more than an hour without talking to someone. Now, I’m in a large house, staying up late to take on personal endeavors, with no social life. The sudden change in social life caused bed-ridden depression instantly, but I eventually adapted to live alone, again.

In Vive L’Amour, there are only three characters. Nothing else. We just watch them, without distractions — sound and dialog. It feels as if so much time is going by in their lives without doing anything. Sometimes I felt as if I’m not doing anything. Yet, it is enthralling to watch, think, and feel. Although, admittedly, I took breaks to handle the extremely slow pace, I never fast forwarded.

The setting is naturalistic. One character sells coffins, another illegally sells clothes, and the last is a real estate agent. The rest of the world feels bleak. The bland side of Taiwan: ugly condos and cars. It’s how I feel whenever I think about the Xinyi district in Taipei.

The actions characters take are novel [to me], adding to realism. bowling a watermelon, stealing keys to an apartment and then sleeping in it. Other scenes are relatable. The younger male character (acted by Lee Kang Sheng) takes actions not uncommon during puberty: masturbating and wearing girl’s clothes.

The dramatic tension caused by the characters being close, yet anonymous, is great to experience. The climax is unbreathably tense and thrilling. The final scene ends it well, with a long shot of an desolate park, then the female character quietly uncontrollably cries, finally physically displaying the real emotion beneath all of the characters: extreme loneliness.

I felt that Tsai Ming-Liang [the director] figured out what worked in Rebels of the Neon God, and stripped everything else, which wasn’t much, out. The audience now focuses only on the action, often of just one character. It’s rather surprising to think how great a minimal film can be, and how few resources is required to make one. It’s a success.

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Cidade dos Homens

11 January 2014 by Rahil

I found the film from a stand in India. I bought it for a few rupees, along with a bunch of old Indian music. The cheap paper cover indicated that it was the TV series, with an episode listing on the back. I continued watching, unsure of whether it was a TV series or film, learning the truth half way.

Watching Cidade dos Homens (City of Men), which is based off of the TV series, which itself is a spin-of of Cidade de Deus (City of God), which I really liked when I saw it in high school, felt like a prolonged TV episode, as many TV show turned films do.

Perhaps I’ve been really high on life and barely appreciating even high art because I was not engaged in the film at all. It has a gritty setting: gangs, guns, local people ‘n all, but the dramedy elements just consistently destroyed the realism. In one instance, One of the main characters has sex on duty, and it trades scenes with his friend also having sex, funky brazilian music plays, it segues on to the next scene; It felt like a sitcom. It’s light-hearted. Yet, people have guns, people die, and I can’t feel for them because these elements distract me from the events that occur.

I thought about something Tsai Ming-Liang said: Films are not real. People shouldn’t have to get so engaged with a film. It’s only a screen. It’s weird that people go festivals, then go into theater rooms, just to watch something on the screen.

In another thought, I felt that there was a truth in feeling of the film. People in Rio de Janerio do have guns, yet people have to live on, and joy is part of life. During my second time in India, I’d walk down the street, past slums, still thinking about people suffering, but a bit less than the first time, focusing on something insignificant, like purchasing a bottle of Thums Up (an Indian brand of cola). People adapt. It’s only crazy from a foreigner’s point of view.

I started fast forwarding half way through; I can’t withstand TV shows. I’d watch the first few second of a scene and understand the rest, and continue watching with this method. At some points I’d peer into the setting, the favelas, wishing I could walk the streets, talk to people, and really understand life there. I felt that there was so much film in the setting that could have been made with just a few of the people. Closer to the people. With less dialog, less narrative. Maybe I just want to physically be there and not watch a film.

The film ended rather quick at an hour and a half, as much of it was fast forwarded. Maybe I’ve become an asshole critic who is unable to enjoy action films. Still, it’s only an action film.

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Aguirre, the Wrath of God

05 January 2014 by Rahil

I watched this during a depression, which turns out to be a very good time for watching movies, as I can easily focus on it. I watched it because the Wikipedia page of Edward Yang claims it rekindled his passion for film. He probably saw it in the late 70s.

Immediately, I was engrossed. The valleyside of mountains of Peru (or so it is told), people marching steeply down clouds, the contrast of spanish soldiers dressed for dinner and raw tribal people, a lack of reason why everything is spoken in German, modern music (timeless, even for 2014) that set the feel of a modern, non-sensical, anxiety-ridden epic.

I just watch in wonder, allowing the pagan theme to meander along with the river. The plot and decisions made by characters are nonsensical. It’s the feeling provoked by the realism of the setting: a forest which reminds me of my time flowing down the Mekong in Laos, The Deer Hunter, and obviously Apocalypse Now; tribal people and local animals are shown often. Also the stark realism of decisions that may have occurred in the past due to the lack of intelligence: placing the black man in front during battle because Indians might be scared of him, and later using similar reasoning to keep the horse, which when finally abandoned eerily stares back at the camera with a blue and white mask.

Action is rarely shown, and when it is, it’s quick, without drama. People die, but it doesn’t matter, nothing matters in this world. There’s just a feel of constant impending doom, like a shitty H.P. Lovecraft book.

There’s this random colorful crew of Spanish soldiers with two princesses, a monk, a silly man made emperor, a black man, a tribal man, a tribal prince all on a raft on a river in the netherworld, and the only thing the characters (and the viewer) can do is watch Aguirre advance them further into their doom.

Although nothing matters in the film, the film is somehow entirely enthralling.

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Copie conforme

30 December 2013 by Rahil

After feeling a bit woozy watching great modern films by Asian directors Kim Ki Duk, Tsai Ming Liang, and Hou Xiao Xian, I was quite glad to watch Copie conforme (Certified Copy). A film with a normal thrill curve. A guilty pleasure. Perhaps the best of it’s kind.

The film is flawless. Like the director’s last film A Separation (edit: This is wrong. That film turns out to be by Asghar Farhadi, another amazing Iranian director. The films are so similar! I assumed.), it focuses on a relationship in a single day. Again, very screenplay-heavy, the camera keeping the couple in the shot, shot naturally requiring less cinematography and more acting. The film plays like a ride with seemingly extremely few cuts; It’s straightforward. It feels as if there’s nothing to analyze.

But I’ll try, a little.

The screenplay requires the actors to be top-notch to endure long takes, maintain realism, and especially to keep the film entirely ambiguous.

The film feels quite universal, containing very familiar characters and events. I consider myself schizoid with characteristics very close to the male: I’m cold, use rationality over emotions, and have narrow interests. Not all males are as cold as me or the male in the film, but I bet many people can identify with many of either one of the character’s characteristics. Moreover, I bet people know someone very much like the two characters shown.

Certainly there are some slightly unbelievable things such as the symbolism of art in the film and the strangers met giving advice, one to the male, one to the female, making the screenplay perfect for what occurs in a single day, just as A Separation did. However, it didn’t bother me. I was enthralled.

I only wish Karaistami continues to show me a day in the life of a relationship, or any person.

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Journey to Yarsa

30 December 2013 by Rahil

Journey to Yarsa is a simple documentary that bares little difference from a traveller’s video. It follows a family in Nepal to pick Yarsagumba, a prized fungus.

Perhaps the viewing experience was affected by my current meh mood, but I felt no emotions toward the film. It was a weird experience. Clearly there was some struggle going on. Maybe it was the happiness of Nepalese people, and my real experience with them that voided the film of any feeling of struggle.

Or, more likely the case, it was the constant voice over dialogue that took my attention away from the video, not allowing me to think, to observe, to create thoughts myself. I always lose attention whenever a documentary because it doesn’t ask the audience to think. I don’t need people talking in front of the screen.

The previous film I had watched, Certified Copy, was enthralling to me the entire length. It also was straightforward with constant dialogue (by the characters), but there was somehow a lot more to observe. I find it odd that I always find narratives far more interesting than documentaries. Documentaries are real. Perhaps because film is not real (I’m not physically interacting with it), it doesn’t affect my pathos. Perhaps it’s the control of emotions of narratives. The power of the art itself. That’s what affects me. This film is lacking it.

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