On the edge of slumber

Contributor; Antwerp, Belgium
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On the edge of slumber
Most films are made to impress. Directors often go through great lengths to woo their audiences. They aim for the fanciest special effect, they apply loud, overproduced scores and they buy the best acting talent available. Or they hire the craziest cinematographers, find a genius scriptwriter and throw in some social commentary, maybe even a little shock value. And that's okay, really. It's what makes film such an exciting medium to reside in.

When people say they "nearly fell asleep" while watching a film it usually means they were bored to death. Unless you're really tired or watching a film past midnight, falling asleep during a film is not a very good sign. It often means the film couldn't provide any of the perks mentioned above, failing to keep the viewer's attention. But there are exceptions! There always are. Some films have the power to put you in a state of near-sleep, allowing you to nod off once in a while without giving you the feeling of having missed much in the meantime. These films feel like a warm blanket, wrapping themselves around you and providing a special kind of escapism.

While sound is a definitely a crucial important aspect of these films, there a some other common elements linking them together. These type of films are usually not plot-driven but thrive solely on atmosphere. The strong combination of visuals and soundtrack provide an ideal base for some first-class slumbering and the lack of important events or story twists make it easier to dose off for a few seconds.

What follows is my top selection of entrancing films. Films that bring you on the edge of dosing off and keep you there for most of their running time, releasing you somewhat refreshed when the end credits start rolling. Note that this selection is very personal, if the film doesn't have the desired result chances are you'll be bored to death. Just a friendly word of warning :)

5. The Clone Returns Home

tom-clone.jpgA very recent addition to the list that actually kick-started the idea for this particular ToM. The film is a lovely blend of scifi and drama, combining the subtleties of cloning with the grief coming from a intimate family drama. The first hour is pretty straight-forward, but once the second part start a mysterious and dreamy atmosphere takes over, slowly putting your brain to rest. A strong musical score, slightly mysterious events and a slow pace all add to the dreamy feel of this film.

4. Bu San

tom-busan.jpgOne of the best Tsai films out there, or at least one of my definite favorites. While extremely slow and uneventful, Tsai mixes the everyday life of a rundown movie theater with some truly dry and absurd humor. The coolest thing is that you can dose off and wake up to a true wtf moment in the exact same scene, wondering what the hell happened in between. The film itself is pretty short but if it doesn't hit the right spot it's sure to be one of the most boring movie experiences ever.

3. Invisible Waves

tom-invisible-waves.jpgThe first Asano film in my list. The man has a kind of sleepy aura hanging over him, making his appearance and acting style quite perfect for this list. Unless he's doing comedy or some other hyperactive project again of course. But even more than Asano's appearance Pen-Ek Ratanaruang counts on the score to do most of the drifting. Lovely low-hum ambient that lulls you right into a borderline sleep. Their might be crime and murder, but it's essentially a marvelous mood trip.

2. Shinkokyû no Hitsuyô (Breathe In, Breathe Out)

With a title like this, you can expect some serious de-stressing, and that's exactly what this film is all about. Various people gather on a little Japanese farm to help out with the harvest. They all have good reasons to escape their previous lives, yearning for some time off, bathing in the sun, working their asses off on the field. On paper this might sound like a terrible bore (and for some people it surely will be), but it's one of the most relaxing films I've ever seen, somewhat reminiscent of a live-action version of Ghibli's Only Yesterday.

1. Cafe Lumiere

tom-cafelumiere.jpgIt didn't take me long to decide my favorite for the top spot. I've seen this film a couple of times and I'm still not sure whether I've seen all of it. I keep dosing off, but in a very good way. It's not so much the music but the sounds of the rumbling city that have an entrancing effect, most notably Hou's love for trains. The sound alone will transports you to the edge of slumber. Asano sleepwalks through most the film, which in itself is void of any big events or major storyline. Pretty awesome stuff.

My list is exclusively Asian. Maybe I could've included Gerry or Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic) for some extra variation, but that would be cheating. Hope this list inspires a little and pretty interested to hear about some extra suggestions from you guys.
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RonnyAugust 12, 2010 8:24 AM

Mizu no Onna (Woman of Water)! Hmmm, another Asian & Asano :).

sitenoiseAugust 12, 2010 12:23 PM

I totally get this (and almost exclusively from East Asian films, too). It is a magic. I give a second nod to "Woman of Water" and offer "Maborosi", "The Most Distant Course", "Su-ki-da", and perhaps the most ephemeral of all "Vertical Ray of the Sun". Great post.

ZjAugust 12, 2010 2:00 PM

If I may add, Syndromes and a Century :D

Niels MatthijsAugust 12, 2010 3:24 PM

All good suggestions. The Most Distant Course is new to me, the others I've all seen or heard about before. Weerasethakul is indeed an interesting addition (Tropical Malady), another one that just barely didn't make it to the list is Zhuangzhuang Tian (Springtime in a Small Town).

Matthew LeeAugust 12, 2010 5:46 PM

I did actually fall asleep during Nymph at Rotterdam, though that was mostly down to lack of sleep and the theatre being so damned warm and comfortable. It did feel weirdly appropriate to the tone of the film though.

I adore The Most Distant Course, Niels. You should definitely give that one a shot. I wouldn't personally include it in something like this but I guess I can see how people might.

Ard VijnAugust 13, 2010 8:17 AM

Note that Rotterdam was in the thrall of a major blizzard at the time (a rarity of epic proportions in The Netherlands), so getting to the theater was at times quite arduous and COLD. Watching a film slowly unfold while in a comfy chair was definitely a peril...

Rest assured that the weather was the second most common topic on the festival. Also rest assured that Eight Rooks wasn't the only one who dozed off during the movies. I don't think I'd have been able to finish any of the films mentioned above in those conditions. ;-)

mrhibbertAugust 13, 2010 5:23 PM

Aye, unfortunately one of the people who found Bu San unbearable, but still artistic at the same time. Probably more of a headache to work out whether I liked it or not.

The Japanese do have a gift when it comes to sleepy, atmospheric movies, and I agree with the comment about Su-Ki-Da. It lulls you into a calm state through the film, in a similar way to Audition (though that was more of a weird uncertain lull) before the ending kicks in. Lovely film and one of my favourites.

AirchinapilotAugust 16, 2010 3:10 PM

I've only seen two Tarkovsky films and found them almost unbearable, yet, for the reasons stated above, also pleasant to look at in glimpses (between bouts of actually falling asleep. "Stalker" I will never want to see again but "Solaris" I think is actually a very beautiful film and I like many parts of it.

However, I will never get those "hours" back from seeing Weerasethakul's Worldly Desires. It's only 40 minutes but it feels like 6 hours. People in the theatre were actively fleeing after the first ten minutes and those that remained were either the most dedicated filmgoers or had already conked out.

robgstAugust 17, 2010 1:27 AM

Love the list.
Cafe Lumiere and Bu san are two of my favourite films ever.
But I have to say my favourite lull-movie is Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool.
It also has the bonus of a terrifically subtle/sad ending!

Dustin ChangAugust 19, 2010 10:22 AM

Love your selections, since Clone Returns Home and Cafe Lumiere are two of my favorites. I once made a list of hypnotic films somewhere, similar to this. Maborosi is certainly the one to qualify. Probably all of Joe's, L'intrus by Claire Denis, the original Solyaris of course, Werckmeister Harmonies, The Sky, the Earth and the Rain, Element of Crime, Institute Benjamenta, Last Days, George Washington, Japon...

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlMkyASLggt9hZMz-HoneN7BXuQ2OpNpZwAugust 22, 2010 7:09 PM

To be honest i didnt bother reading your list or top 5 faved films but what grabbed me was your intro about films and the way you described some of them. thats one nice muthafuckin intro. sorry for the profanity but in this case its complimentary, so please be at peace.