Critiquing art films is as arduous a task as sitting through them. Of course, saying this is close-minded, anti-intellectual and an easy way to get kicked off Daily Arts. For me, a decently “cultured” moviegoer, there’s often no reward for sitting through one of these movies. Instead, I feel stupid for not understanding what the hell just happened on screen –– a true low blow for my fragile ego.
When jaded by the traditional narrative structures and easy-to-follow plots in most Hollywood pictures, these experimental films feel like a different art form altogether. And, they are indeed. There are almost no similarities between the two styles, except for the fact that both are, in fact, movies. Art house cinema isn’t necessarily boring; it just requires a generous amount of patience.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival is a perfect way to get acquainted with this style of filmmaking. One of this year’s entries is “Kuro,” a Japanese movie by Joji Koyama and Tujiko Noriko. “Kuro” tells the story of Romi, a woman living in Paris who cares for her paraplegic boyfriend Milou. Like many other art films, “Kuro” includes practically no dialogue in favor of voice-over narration. Romi, played by Noriko, retells the story of their love and its many complications. Their tale is tragic, yet inspired. Although it’s difficult to follow at moments, some of the stories told by Romi are heart-shattering and true testaments of the human will.
“Kuro” attempts to tell two stories: one through the narration, and the other through the various shots of Romi caring for Milou. A lot of the plot is unclear, but it’s unfair to critique an art film as if it were a more traditional major motion picture. The deeper meaning that film snobs love to ruminate over is equally ambiguous, which will leave these aforementioned viewers puzzled for weeks. I’ve given up trying to understand the meaning behind “Kuro,” perhaps because I’m a bit impatient with such challenging stories. Nonetheless, the movie risks being a bit too “out-there” for even the biggest fans of art film.
“Kuro” ’s constant narration is complimented by stunning shots that forgo any camera motion, diving into the stillness of the characters’ lives. An art film without quality cinematography (or, any film for that matter) is like an Italian pizza pie without some succulent cheese; it’s never going to be anything but substandard. Still, the camerawork is one of the only engulfing aspects of the movie. After a while, the pretty shots become background to the other lackluster parts of the movie.
Directors of experimental films like “Kuro” lack anything close to the budgets of even the most “indie” of indie movies. With this comes very little financial incentive and little payoff for those involved. The filmmakers, therefore, must be deeply passionate about their work in order for the movies to stand a chance. Koyama and Noriko put forth every ounce of passion on the screen. However, the result requires an ample amount of patience and an open-mind.
Although I’m not the biggest fan of this genre, I’m a firm believer that art films challenge the norm and influence big-name directors to also push cinematic boundaries. Without people doing the weirdest, strangest stuff, the movie industry as a whole is more likely to remain in a creative lull. “Kuro’s” overlapping “plots” and meditative cinematography, two of the movie’s most special qualities, still don’t feel overly inventive. Regardless, “Kuro” questions the expectations of how a movie should be and ultimately defies them.
I’ve always wanted to try to understand experimental movies and dig into their deeper meaning. But sometimes, this is futile, for there’s no intellectual concept to grasp at all. In many ways, movies are purely the most basic form of escapism. Watching a movie is an experience meant to break up the occasional mundanity of everyday living. Unfortunately, “Kuro” only adds to it.