Experimental Reviews

A Talkative Work (2021) – 2.5 stars

Director: Minsun Lee

Writer: Minsun Lee

Running time: 7mins

The whole film of A Talkative Work can be viewed via Minsun Lee’s Vimeo.

Without wanting to be too prescriptive about it, I think experimental film works best in the short form. The format has a tendency to outstay its welcome the longer it lasts – as even the nicest moments of meditation it produces will ultimately allow the mind to wander back to the noise of everyday life. Yes, thinking about nothing, or the absurdity of existence has been pleasant, but did I leave the stove on?

Unfortunately, even short experimental films are not immune to the inevitable leaking of reality into our resting minds. A Talkative Work is particularly susceptible to this due to its eclectic nature – the lack of a focal point means that as soon as we have established the first four or five context-free images don’t have any relation, whatever follows is unlikely to either. The more cynical elements of our minds will immediately seize on this as grounds for not paying any more attention.

And that is a shame, because Minsun Lee has captured some genuinely captivating footage in among the array of snippets she has displayed here. A woman running tentatively through the snow-covered streets of Seoul. A man commenting on how foreboding a flickering light in the women’s toilets appear. A glimpse into the cluttered and chaotic working space of an artist; sticky-notes adorning every horizontal space available.

The problem is that for every image you might be interested in exploring further, there are two more that last twice as long, without having any of that sense of intrigue. We gaze almost endlessly at two analogue clocks in the opening scene, while a digital time-stamp ticks by at the bottom of the screen. Midway through, we break to watch a short film from called Nobody Knows, which consists of an unseen woman sobbing through a mouthful of cotton-wool. We spend the final third of the film looking at abstract portions of a web-browser screen, or a hyper-zoomed portion of the editing software, or group-chats on messaging platforms. All the while, the time-stamp returns to remind us that this has cost us further minutes of our lives.

The key to what is going on seems to be in the five mottos which appear throughout the piece. Scrawled on white paper are the suggestions: ‘Do Nothing’; ‘Have Nothing in Mind’; ‘See, but Nothing’; ‘Aim Nobody’; and ‘If It Were Nothing’. These platitudes, unfortunately, do not make much sense when presented alone – but if viewers had the luck to read the director’s blurb before watching (something I think is antithetical to filmmaking as a mode of communication, but let’s ignore that for now) they would understand these are “five ways to survive as an artist.”

The fact this is for artistic ‘survival’ rather than ‘success’ may well be why the film is so full of images that go nowhere. Even when a project does get beyond that frustrating moment of watching the clock – and begging your brain to come up with something, ANYTHING – art is crammed with frustrating dead-ends. Perhaps Nobody Knows was one such cultural cul-de-sac. Perhaps the ‘If It Were Nothing’ segment represents a project which completed filming, but became stranded in post-production purgatory.

For artists, these are the kind of things you will have to learn to cope with if you are going to keep the torturous process of creation from really getting to you. It’s a lesson that people who are not artists will also need to come to terms with. We don’t always get what we want from life. Our best laid plans gang aft a-gley, and we will need to find ways to survive that reality.

In the end, though, is that message enough to warrant sitting through seven minutes of film – half of which appear overtly to be filler? You can be your own judge of that; but I think I would rather see a shoddily-put-together film that attempts something and fails, than a half-hearted essay on learning to cope with failure which doesn’t really risk anything in its own right.

There are glimpses of an artist in here who can construct beautiful images, and who can capture compelling moments on camera with great aesthetic aplomb. Sadly, this film does not venture to use those capabilities for much constructive. It instead spends the duration of the run-time managing expectations, telling us not to hope for too much. Whether or not that is a useful attitude for an artist, it does not make for especially engaging cinema.

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