LIFF 2019: Closing Time

It’s 3am in Tapei (Taiwan). Kuo and his wife are working hard in their restaurant where all kinds of people stop by. As the night progresses, director Nicole Vogele shows us little glimpses of life in this busy city that never sleeps. 

“How beautiful and how extremely slow”. Those were my thoughts after the first five minutes of Closing Time. 

Beautiful because of Stefan Sick’s cinematography that made me forget this was a documentary. Every shot is like a carefully composed photograph where life is surrounded by price tags and objects.  In this world, people come last, and yet these people are what keeps society going. This is aptly shown in one of the first shots, of eggs being taken out of their box. The focus is on the eggs, as a hand comes in and out of frame to pick them up. We hear the eggs being broken and added to a mixture, but we do not see it because the product is more important than the cook. The sound design also puts the emphasis on the sounds of the city, which are much clearer than the dialogue.

Despite this beauty, Closing Time will be much too slow to enjoy for some. At the beginning I was truly wondering how I was going to make it through the endless scenes of people cooking, doing business in their shops and driving. I was waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen… but as the film progressed I realised that was the point. I was struggling to watch an hour of monotony, when these people deal with it every day.

What I found striking was how normal that lifestyle of extreme work seems to everyone. The only discussions we see revolve around work and business. These people are not living, they are surviving. This is seen through the lack of pleasure expressed throughout. Working, eating or exercising, no one ever smiles. No affection is seen between Kuo and his wife. Whether they talk about the shop or their children, their tone is the same: businesslike. There is one exception to this seriousness: music. During various karaoke scenes, we finally get a glimpse of people loosening up. The lyrics of the songs, however, are all about living a better life. On one of her rare breaks, Kuo’s wife watches a music video on her phone. Even the sound of Kuo’s cooking is quite rhythmic and musical. This desire for escape through music reveals that the people of Tapei might not be as contented with their situations as they seem to be.

Closing Time offers a unique look at some very hard-working people whose existences are not often acknowledge, it celebrates their existence but it also invites us to reflect on our lives and to remember to enjoy relationships and nature.

Leeds International Film Festival is playing until the 21st of November:https://www.leedsfilm.com/film-festivals/leeds-international-film-festival/liff-2019-programme/

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Rebecca Gallon

Third year Film and Television production student at the University of York. Film and TV editor at the Yorker 2017-2018.

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