L. Cohen, the latest from American avant-garde director James Benning (and also a tribute to the late Canadian singer-songwriter), is a work of rare beauty — literally so, given that it unfolds over a single 45-minute shot of a farm field in Oregon “on a very special day.” The sole composition is typically masterful: patches of grass and dry brush occupy the right foreground, a pair of rusty drums and a tire draw attention to the left, while a set of telegraph poles stretch out into the background towards the snow-capped mountains. Extending the filmmaker’s recent digital experimentation, L. Cohen attunes the viewer to slight, almost imperceptible shifts in light, as augmented by both the camera’s auto-exposure settings and the generally overcast sky. Throughout the runtime, there’s a conspicuous lack of movement within the frame — but neither is it completely static, so the composition’s overall impression is uncanny. It’s what one could call an almost-still life — which is not to say that nothing occurs. Indeed, if a durational work like this could be said to be “about” something, it’s measuring change, to borrow from the title of Benning’s own 2016 feature. Contemplative and imbued with a sense of melancholy, L. Cohen cannily recalibrates viewer expectations; it’s a film where it only seems as if nothing is happening (when in fact a lot is), a quality that makes its truly astonishing shift — too good to spoil — that much more miraculous. A very special day, indeed.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2018 | Dispatch 5.