In Review: Experiments with Time (Dir. Chaitanya, 2020)

There appears to be something of a (welcome) trend within experimental circuits of amateur films made independently and released online, a trend of being inspired by the likes of underground filmmakers such as Lav Diaz or Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The influence of the slow cinema movement, which really started to gain traction largely thanks to the internet and its many websites and threads dedicated to cinema, is apparent in many films cropping up on YouTube within the last few years and it is always pretty wonderful to see filmmakers like Diaz and Weerasethakul having such a strong influence that is being spread by their fans. Experiments with Time is another of these short films that shows quite clearly the influence of these two directors (among others, of course) with its alluring black and white cinematography, its focus on mundanity and its very intentional slow pacing. Though the film is only five minutes long, the shots are often drawn out, focusing in on specific moments as the title would suggest.

This title doesn’t only suggest an attempt to draw time out, though, as the editing on show provides an alternative to slow cinema’s long, static shots by zooming in or changing angle at unpredictable points. Film can evade time, the one thing that all people are truly bound by as is evidenced by the unnamed female protagonist whom we see going about her daily business. The action of simply living a mundane, everyday life is one usually cut around in film, however here in this ‘experiment with time’, we see these activities play out in full. It’s certainly an interesting dynamic, and shows a want to lean as far away from more conventional cinema as possible – The Matrix, this most certainly is not – and this always makes me quite excited to see where the director will go next. Will Chaitanya’s dodging of traditional narrative see him go further with experimental visuals? Will he start to tamper with experimental soundscapes next? Etc. This is a cinema of asking questions with answers that can only be discovered through cinematic play, through toying and studying reactions. 

Thankfully, Experiments with Time does ground itself within cinematic tradition enough to still be easily watchable. The cinematography, as I touched on earlier, is just gorgeous with every composition really standing out and the choice to edit into black and white adds a certain spark to the mundanity of the actions seen, it lends these shots a certain filmic edge that otherwise they may lack. Though the camera may sometimes shake a little much, making the audience’s awareness of the cinematographer a little greater than feels appropriate for what is otherwise a very unassuming cinema verity stylised short, the film looks fantastic. The opening shot especially, Anderson-esque with its symmetry and use of leading lines, brings together ideas about the everlasting battle between nature and industrialism with the buildings laying in front of the trees which only remain visible due to their sprawling branches and leaves which are allowed to simply lay in the background without being overly touched on by the rest of the film, these small details adding much needed nuance that give some extra depth to the five minute short.

For a film that opens with a quote from a book as good and as iconic as Khalil Gibran’s philosophical poetry classic The Prophet, this film is more than appropriately open-minded. It leans towards the mysteries of our world, it finds pleasure in the directly un-cinematic properties of an everyday life and it appears to enjoy spending time with its subjects in spite of their normality. It’s a beautiful short film, with very strong form that shows a good deal of promise for what Chaitanya may direct next. These YouTube shorts continue to impress me. 

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