Friday, July 31, 2015

A genuine art film arrives in town: Jem Cohen's visual treat, COUNTING, keeps your eyes glued

TrustMovies took more notes on the new film, COUNTING, than on any movie he's watched in long while. This meant pressing "pause" far too often and/or going back to view what he'd missed. This is indeed an "art film," which will mean that at least half of my audience will probably stop reading right now. But there's no other way to put it. Counting, demanding but rewarding, doesn't compare to much else--maybe anything--I've seen, and you have to be willing to take a chance and simply go with the movie-maker's flow. Yet after Cohen's Museum Hours, most folk who saw that quietly spellbinding film will most likely want to take the chance. (Museum Hours seems practically a mainstream movie next to this new one.

Perhaps the best way to approach Jem Cohen's movie (the filmmaker is shown at left) is to think of it as if you're about to look through someone's scrapbook of photos -- in this case mostly moving images. But, no, it's not your Aunt Millie's favorite shots; this is the work of a born photog-rapher. Even his shots of the most mundane activi-ties are elegantly composed.

Divided into 15 chapters of various lengths (I think the lengthiest is the first -- fifteen minutes shot in New York City from 2012 through 2014 -- the film lasts 112 minutes. This is long for a documentary, particularly one without any real narrative drive. And yet, I would not have given up a single one of the fifteen segments during which we travel from the U.S. to Russia to Turkey and back again (most of the time is divided between the USA and Russia).

Along the way we get small doses of politics (very low-key: blink or pay less attention and you may miss these), culture, cats and dogs, some music and a lot of interesting ambient sound. There is very occasional voice-over narration (again, political) but almost no talking, except suddenly, when things take a personal turn as a close relative grows ill. The chapters are numbered and maybe half of these have a somewhat descriptive title. And at the end, there's a wonderful quotation via the late Chris Marker.

What there is mostly is terrific photography, which is a nonstop pleasure to view. The way Cohen looks at things is quite his own -- whether it's a nearly full plastic container of tea left at a Russian curbside, the faces of animals, reflections in a Manhattan window, shafts of light dancing in the frame (this amazing shot puts to shame the million-dollar special effects which which our movies are currently inundated), a decaying building shown against more modern versions, a lovely meal prepared in less-than-ideal circumstances, and one singular image of the reflection of another building caught in a street puddle, the beauty and surprise of which took my breath away.

There is so much here for photography aficionados, but is the film enough of a meal for mere movie buffs? I don't know. It certainly was for me. Coming out of it, I felt as if I knew Mr. Cohen -- along with his views and concerns -- quite a bit better. Maybe, after seeing it, you will, too. I do know that the Muslim call to prayer has never seemed richer or stranger than what is seen and heard here.

From Cinema Guild and running 112 minutes, Counting, after its Brooklyn debut at the BAM Cinemafest, opens theatrically today in New York at the IFC Center.  Other dates and cities? Maybe, once Cinema Guild gets a bit more on the ball and updates its website, we'll find out.

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