Cinema is a time-based medium, and duration is one of its great weapons. Sitting in a darkened theater, the passive consumer of movies is beholden to the whims of the filmmaker, forced to wait for the punchline, the kiss, the bump in the night. A certain narrative ideal holds that the patience of the spectator ought to be rewarded by the film—expectations should be satisfied and suspense itself suspended. This is why a lot of people go to the movies—to have some particular anticipation coddled and indulged—and thus the avant-garde has a fine tradition of upending and manipulating these basic narrative presumptions and desires of the audience. Films like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles or Warhol’s Empire work the fortitude of the spectators’ attention spans, forcing viewers into extended durations of supposed everyday life, casual cinematic observation, or non-narrative formal play. Such denials of storytelling’s traditional push-and-pull provoke careful consideration of the narrative forms they’re unmasking.
This is all to say that Jaime Rosales’s Bullet in the Head is tedious, but not simply because it’s long and almost entirely devoid of incident. It’s “experimental” in two senses of the word: in that it tests our patience in that certain avant-garde way, and in that the filmmaker doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing, and is more hoping for a certain ingrained reaction rather than trying more actively to achieve it. Click here to read the rest of Leo Goldsmith’s review of Bullet in the Head.