The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Visages villages
Happy End
A Ghost Story
Battle of the Sexes
Evolution of the Senses

How to Describe a Cloud (Slow Criticism)

The Netherlands/Taiwan, 2012 | David Verbeek
Leo Goldsmith checks in from Brooklyn to report on How to Describe a Cloud, the film that Dutch director David Verbeek shot in his second homeland Taiwan.

Somewhere in the speculative bestiaries of Gert van Dijk or Dougal Dixon — many centuries in the future or perhaps on a distant life-sustaining planet — is a creature without nostalgia, an animal evolved beyond memory of past species or past lives, able to look serenely ahead as its ancestors languish in a primitivity of remembrance, wistfulness, and regret.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Here we are hopelessly enmired in the past, even as our worlds become more virtualized, evanescent, nebulous. Even in the Taipei of David Verbeek's How to Describe a Cloud, where the slick, high-definition cityscapes, seen through windows and screens and flat surfaces, would seem to have thrown off the ache and the awkward dimensionality of the rural — abstraction and technology against materiality and nature.

Liling has transcended these humble origins, or so it would seem, having left the coastal town where her brother and mother remain unchanging in a watery grey-green landscape, as if immersed. She has surpassed even the small pretext for her life in the city: having dropped out of university (going there only to use the running track), she is now engaged in a loose collaborative project of artmaking — mounting photographs in lightboxes and creating experimental environments for electronic sounds. This diffuse intellectual labor, which contrasts with her brother's very substantial work of fishing and care for their aging mother itself attests to a kind of evolution — of the social and economic — but in Liling's case these distances are suffused with ambiguity and remorse. She runs but has not been able to move forward.

Liling may not be able to see clearly the road ahead, but in her mother's eyes — which are themselves like two clouds, grey and sightless — her precarious evolution is still advancing. But her mother is not exactly stagnating either: immobilized by her age and blindness, she believes she is developing an auxiliary sense, a mystical compensatory awareness of the world around her. She feels Liling's silent presence and communicates to her, perhaps, over vast distances. This new intelligence, however, is ambiguous in its place in a history of progress. Its harmony with her mother's astrological superstitions suggests an ancient genealogy, but it also gestures to a deeply technologized world of networked, wireless communication. Neither precisely scientific nor supernatural, it is a kind of magical parafuturism that is perhaps less unfamiliar than it seems: when Liling texts her boyfriend, "My mom freaks me out. She thinks she has a sixth sense," he responds by sending her a YouTube link of a blind man wired for a kind of sonar vision. Ours is an age of prostheses and sixth senses, ghosts-in-machines and invisible boyfriends.

But this age is still foreign to us, still indistinct, its haunted, technologically infused space captured by Verbeek and his cinematographer Jean Counet in feverish, blurry images that appear to be bathing in nebula, filmed like the landscapes of an alien planet. During the film's opening credits, we see such a planet more clearly — in vivid, psychedelic renderings — but these are somehow too crisp, too immediate. These are the cosmic fantasies of Chen, an older xenobiologist whom Liling befriends and then, perhaps, falls in love with. His drawings of alien species — zoological speculations that are, in fact, drawn from the work of Van Dijk — virtualize other worlds, reach out to alternate genetic lineages, other ecologies of communication and cohabitation.

Perhaps this work is utopian. Perhaps by evoking these worlds, Chen is trying to imagine new possibilities, new evolutions, collapsing the distance between those fantastical 'woolly-haired shufflers' that may roam alien worlds light years away, and this all-too-near human species that seems to be dying, evolving itself into obsolescence. But in so doing he also creates a distance between himself and the immediate world, between humans. He has not evolved into new spaces or modes of existence so much as dematerialized.

Back in the new world, Liling still stands nebulously between worlds. But perhaps this betweenness is the precisely the place (and the time) in which Verbeek and his film mean to situate us. Between vision and blindness still exists a sensual possibility, whether or not that sense is translated to us, mediated, described by a system of images and words and sounds. Between the shifting intangibles of the future and the hard, ineluctable gravities of the past, there is a present in which the real and the virtual can coexist.

Leo Goldsmith co-edits the film section of The Brooklyn Rail and is a PhD candidate in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University.



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How to Describe a Cloud (Slow Criticism)

Filmkrant #351, February 2013

Slow Criticism 2013

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HAAIBAAI aka SHARKBAIT
HAAR NAAM WAS SARAH
HABANA BLUES
Habemus Papam
HABITAT
HABLE CON ELLA
HACKERS
Hacksaw Ridge
Hadewijch
HAIFA
Hail, Caesar!
LA HAINE
HAIRSPRAY
HALF MOON
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HALL PASS
HALLAM FOE
Hallo bungalow
HALLOWEEN
HALLOWEEN 2
HALLOWEEN 8: RESURRECTION
HALLOWEEN H20
HAMACA PARAGUAYA
HAMAM, IL BAGNO TURCO
HAMBURGER LEKTIONEN
HAMLET
HAMLET 2
Hampstead
HANA-BI
HANCOCK
The Handmaiden
HANEKAM DE ROCKER
THE HANGING GARDEN
HANGOVER
HANGOVER 2
The Hangover III
Hanna
Hannah Arendt
HANNAH MONTANA/MILEY CYRUS
HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE
HANNIBAL
HANNIBAL RISING
Hannibal, seizoen 1
HANZO THE RAZOR-TRILOGIE
THE HAPPENING
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD (Previously Unreleased)
Happily Ever After
HAPPINESS
Happy Death Day
HAPPY END
Happy End
HAPPY ENDINGS
HAPPY FEET
Happy Feet 2
The Happy Film
Happy Happy
HAPPY TIMES
HAPPY TOGETHER
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE
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HARD EIGHT
HARD HEAD/TÊTE DURE
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Hard To Be a God
HARDBALL
Hardcore Henry
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Harmonium (Kôji Fukada over)
Harmony Lessons
HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE
Harrie Geelen Filmcollectie
HARRISON'S FLOWERS
HARRY BROWN
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 3D
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HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE
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HARRY, UN AMI QUI VOUS VEUT DU BIEN
Hart Beat
Hartenstraat
Hartenstrijd
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HARVARD MAN
THE HARVEST
HARVEST TIME
Hasta la vista!
The Hateful Eight
A Haunted House
A Haunted House 2
HAUNTED MANSION
THE HAUNTING
A Haunting History
THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia
DIE HÄUPTER MEINER LIEBEN
HAUT BAS FRAGILE
Haute cuisine
Hava Nagila — The Movie
HAVEN
Le Havre
HAWAII OSLO
HÄXAN
Haywire
HAZE
HE GOT GAME
HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT
He named me Malala
HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
HEAD ABOVE WATER
HEAD ON
HEAD TRAUMA
Headhunters
HEAR MY SONG
HEART
Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson over)
HEART OF DARKNESS
HEART OF GOLD
THE HEART OF JUSTICE
THE HEARTBREAK KID
HEARTBREAKERS
HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
Heartstone
The Heat
HEAT
HEAVEN
HEAVEN AND EARTH
Heaven on Earth
Heaven's Gate
HEAVEN'S HEART
HEAVENLY CREATURES
HEAVY
A Heavy Heart (Thomas Stuber over)
HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD
Hector and the Search for Happiness
Heddy Honigmann IN FOCUS
Hedi (Mohamed Ben Attia over)
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
HEF, EEN GESPREK MET DRIE ZUSSEN
HEIMAT 3 — CHRONIK EINER ZEITENWENDE
Heimat — Eine Deutsche Chronik
HEIMATKLÄNGE
HEIMWEE NAAR DE DOOD
De Heineken ontvoering
HEIST
EEN HEKS IN DE FAMILIE
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HEKSJE LILLI: DE REIS NAAR MANDOLAN
HEKSJE LILLY
DE HEL VAN '63
DE HELAASHEID DER DINGEN
La helada negra (Previously Unreleased)
De held
Heli (Amat Escalante over)
Helium
Hell or High Water
HELLBENT
HELLBOY
Hello I Must be Going
HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE
The Help
HELP ME EROS
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HENRY-GEORGES CLOUZOT'S INFERNO
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
Her
HERBIE: FULLY LOADED
Hercules
The Here After
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DE HERENIGINGSEXPRES SAIGON — HANOI
LE HÉRISSON
Les héritiers
HERO (YING XIONG)
UN HÉROS TRÈS DISCRET
HEROSTRATUS
DAS HERZ IST EIN DUNKLER WALD (Previously Unreleased)
Hesher
Het doet zo zeer
HET IS EEN SCHONE DAG GEWEEST
HET MYSTERIE VAN DE SARDINE
Het verlangen
HET WOORD HEEFT MIJ GERED
L' HEURE D'ÉTÉ
Une heure de tranquillité
THE HI-LINE
THE HI-LO COUNTRY
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Hidden Figures
HIDE AND SEEK
HIDEAWAY
HIDEOUS KINKY
Hier ben ik
HIGH ART
HIGH CRIMES
HIGH FIDELITY
HIGH HEELS
HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR
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HIGHER LEARNING
HIGHLANDER 3: THE SORCERER
HIGHWAYMEN
HILARY AND JACKIE
HILDE (THE KNEF)
The hills have eyes (Alexandre Aja)
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Wes Craven)
HIMALAYA
Hiroshima Mon Amour
HIS BIG WHITE SELF
HISTOIRE(S) DU CINÉMA
HISTORIAS MÍNIMAS
Historiás que só existem quando lembradas
The History of Love
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
History's Future
Hit and Run
HITCH
Hitchcock
Hitchcock/Truffaut
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
HITMAN
The Hitman's Bodyguard
Hitman: Agent 47
L' hiver dernier
THE HOAX
The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN
HOCHZEITSGÄSTE
Hocus Pocus met Alfons Alfrink
HODDER
Hoe duur was de suiker
HOE OVERLEEF IK... MEZELF
HOE TEM JE EEN DRAAK?
HOFFA
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THE HOLE (Nick Hamm)
THE HOLE (Tsai Ming-liang)
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Home
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HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
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HOMEWARD BOUND: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY
Homies
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UN HOMME QUI CRIE
Les hommes libres
Homo Sapiens (Previously Unreleased)
HONEY (Bille Woodruff)
HONEY (Semih Kaplanoglu)
Honey 2 (Bille Woodruff)
HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID
HONEYMOON IN VEGAS
THE HONEYMOONERS
HONEYZ
HONOUR OF THE DRAGON
HOODLUM
HOODWINKED
HOOGSTE TIJD
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HOPE FLOATS
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Hope Springs
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HORROR
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HORTON
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THE HOST (Bong Joon-ho)
HOSTAGE
HOSTEL
HOSTEL 2
THE HOT CHICK
HOT FUZZ
HOT ROD
Hotel de grote L
HOTEL DE LOVE
HOTEL DIARIES
HOTEL FOR DOGS
HOTEL RWANDA
Hotel Transylvanie 2 3D
Hotel Transylvanië: Hotel vol monsters
Hotell (Lisa Langseth over)
THE HOURS
THE HOUSE
House at the End of the Street
HOUSE OF CARDS
House of Cards, seizoen 2
HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS
THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG
HOUSE OF WAX
THE HOUSE OF YES
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
THE HOUSEMAID
HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER
HOW I KILLED A SAINT
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
HOW MANY ROADS
HOW SHE MOVE
How To Be Single
How to Change the World
How to Describe a Cloud
How to Describe a Cloud (Slow Criticism)
HOW TO GET RID OF THE OTHERS
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS
HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE
HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT
How to Meet a Mermaid
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Howards End
HOWL
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE
Hoy como ayer
THE HUDSUCKER PROXY
HUFTERS & HOFDAMES
Hugo
LE HUITIÈME JOUR
HUKKLE
HULK
Human
THE HUMAN CONDITION
HUMAN NATURE
THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER
The Human Scale
THE HUMAN STAIN
HUMAN TRAFFIC
L' humanité
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP
A HUMBLE LIFE
Hummingbird
HUMPDAY
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise)
THE HUNCHBACK OF THE NOTRE DAME (Wallace Worsley)
The Hundred-Foot Journey
HUNDSTAGE
HUNGER
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2
THE HUNGRY GHOSTS
Hungry Hearts
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HUNT DOWN
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
THE HUNTED
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The Hunter (Rafi Pitts)
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HUNTING & ZN.
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The Huntsman
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HUSH
HUSH!
HUSTLE & FLOW
Hyde Park on Hudson
HYÈNES
HYPE!
The Hypnotist
HYSTERIA (René Daalder)
Hysteria (Tanya Wexler)