These days, with the advent of online culture and social media, everything needs to move extremely quickly. News spreads in the blink of an eye, articles go viral, opinions are printed en masse and within seconds of an event. Even with movies, people often look to Twitter as an easy outlet for an opinion on a film. You walk out of the theatre, think up a pithy 140-character sentiment about what you’ve just watched, publish it, and move on. At a film festival, that’s only truer. It’s a no-brainer that letting a movie sit and stew is an important part of the process, and opinions about a film can change the more you think about them. There’s a special pleasure, though, in the film that grows in your estimation the more it bounces around in your head.
The other day, at the Toronto International Film Festival, I went to see a film called The Duke of Burgundy, directed by Peter Strickland, who previously made the intense and wild Berberian Sound Studio. While I was watching it, I couldn’t quite figure out if I was enjoying it or not. Looking purely at the filmmaking craft on display, there was no question of Strickland’s talent. It’s gorgeously shot, designed, and edited, and all with such precise intent. The question for me was whether the intent — in this case watching the subtle breakdown of a lesbian BDSM relationship — was being well-served by the film’s style.
In the days since seeing The Duke of Burgundy I’ve fully come around on its greatness. I’ve wrestled with the film’s deliberate use of repetition and tedium, as well as its coy sense of humor. I’ve ruminated on its incredible images, and how they line up with the complex but subtle character work throughout the film. At this point, I can’t wait to see the film again to luxuriate in everything it does and properly marvel at its achievement.
Esteem for a film doesn’t always go in the positive direction for me. Often the visceral impact of a film exceeds its thoughtfulness, and the more distance I get from it, the less I appreciate it on the whole. When it does go in the positive direction, though, I cherish that. It took a several months and numerous viewings before I realized just how deeply I loved Inside Llewyn Davis, for example. There’s a film that was so simply constructed, and yet inscrutable at its surface. It required thought and time, and with both of those, its beauty unfolded before me.
The Coens have done that to me a few times. In fact, I’ve grown to love almost all of their films over time and the more I’ve considered them. It’s also true of real classics. The first two or three times I watched The Godfather I simply wasn’t enamored. Sure, it was obviously an impressive film, showing incredible technique and equally great performances. I could feel the cultural impact of it. And still it didn’t make a personal impact in the way I’d thought it would. But with time, and with thought, and with a couple more rewatches, I was finally overcome by the film’s power.
In a way, it’s important for people to sometimes realize that their own opinion of a film, or any work of art really, is fallible to a certain degree. If you don’t like a film, or if you do, but it doesn’t instantly insert itself into your soul, that could be a function of the film’s poor qualities, but it just as easily might be to do with your own ability to appreciate it in the moment. I’ll often see people walk out of a new film, immediately saying it’s a masterpiece. I’ve done that before I’m sure. There’s nothing wrong with a little hyperbole, but the real problem with doing that is the lack of time to think about what you’ve just watched. Taking films seriously means taking the time to think about them, and to let your feelings about them mutate and form. If you give a movie the space to do that, there’s a good chance it will be that much more rewarding.
Corey Atad is a staff writer for Pajiba. He lives in Toronto.