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Killing Time: Boredom and Violence in Natalia Almada’s cinema

Mon, May 27, 9:00 to 10:30am, TBA

Abstract

A night watchman in a Mexican cemetery, an aging cat lady in a dead-end bureaucratic job; these are the focal characters in Natalia Almada’s most recent films: the documentary El velador (2011) and her first feature-length fiction film, Todo lo demás (2017). Almada’s takes are so long, the actions so repetitive, that she has often been described as a practitioner of “slow cinema,” in which lengthy duration measures leads to a contemplative experience for the audience. Each of these films centers on the tedium and predictability of everyday tasks, repeated mechanically, leading to minor exhaustion (an exhaustion shared by the viewer, as one of my students said—“is she trying to make us die of boredom?”). I want to argue, though, that my student’s perception—dying of boredom—is a stronger and more accurate response to Almada’s work than the aesthetic/philosophical affect associated with contemplation. In both of these films, Almada specifically addresses the violence in contemporary Mexico by pushing the tedium of the ordinary to the foreground, where inescapability does not lead to transcendence but rather to something akin to what Sianne Ngai calls “stuplimity,” an affect holding in tension the astonishing and the boring.

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