Since I reviewed it last fall, I’ve often found myself thinking about a shot in the Turkish film Honey. From a stationary position at the top of a hill, the camera looks down at a middle-aged woman picking tea leaves. There are countless rows of plants behind her and presumably even more past the camera’s location. The shot, which lasts for a minute or two, leads us to assume that the woman has been at this for a long time. Far longer than the average shot of a mainstream movie—and notably lacking music or sound effects that might make it more entertaining—it briefly encourages the viewer to imagine the monotony of her work.
If you watch international art cinema on a regular basis, you’ve likely seen plenty of shots like this in recent years. The subjects tend to be impoverished, living in undeveloped areas, and employed in some kind of menial labor. The visual style is purposely uncomplicated, marked by minimal cutting and exacting compositions, as if to reflect the characters’ uncomplicated lifestyle. If you’re unfamiliar with this mode of filmmaking, you can see it in Aqui y Allà (Here and There), a Mexican film about farm laborers that opens this weekend at Facets Multimedia, and in Sharqiya, an Israeli film about impoverished bedouins screening at Block Cinema a week from Friday. Surely I’m not the only person who finds it odd that movies from Turkey, Mexico, and Israel should look so similar?