On July 24 and 25, Acropolis Cinema will offer viewers in Los Angeles the opportunity to immerse themselves in the visual and audial rhythms of daily life in a village of forty-seven inhabitants in the mountains of Japan’s Kyoto Prefecture. C. W. Winter and Anders Edström’s eight-hour fiction feature The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) is a portrait of a farmer and his family over the course of five seasons.
The title is a nod to Works and Days, a sort of farmer’s almanac written around 700 BC, in which the Greek poet Hesiod offers agricultural advice to his brother. Acropolis founder Jordan Cronk wrote in Film Comment last year that “where such daunting length might suggest something tedious or one-note, The Works and Days is constantly shape-shifting, mixing ravishing landscape imagery and scenes of day-to-day labor with bustling dinner sequences and moments of alcohol-fueled camaraderie among an extended coterie of friends and fellow farmers.”
Winter—a Californian who studied under Thom Andersen, James Benning, and Allan Sekula and now teaches at Oxford—and Edström—a Swedish photographer whose work has been published in Purple and Fantastic Man and exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris—first worked together on One Plus One 2 (2003), a documentary on the work of guitarist Derek Bailey conceived as a response to Jean-Luc Godard’s One Plus One (1968). Winter and Edström’s first fiction feature, The Anchorage (2009), won the Golden Leopard in Locarno’s Filmmakers of the Present competition. “Pairing textured cinematography with intricate sound design,” wrote Dennis Lim in the New York Times in 2010, The Anchorage, which depicts three days in the life of a middle-aged woman on a remote island in the Stockholm archipelago, is “an immersive depiction of a solitary, self-sufficient life, one that the actor to an extent shares with her character.”
The Works and Days premiered early last year at the Berlinale, where it won a Golden Bear in the inaugural edition of the Encounters competitive program launched by then-incoming artistic director Carlo Chatrian. Mark Peranson, a programmer for the festival and the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scope, spoke with Winter and Edström for the magazine’s summer 2020 issue. “One thing that we were aware of going in is that much of our fiction gets mistaken for documentary,” says Winter. “And so a couple of our casting decisions were made to help disabuse the viewer of this sort of misreading. This led to the casting of the actor Ryo Kase, a friend of Anders’s from Tokyo, who we thought our sort of audience would recognize from films by Abbas Kiarostami, Hong Sangsoo, and Martin Scorsese. We felt his recurring presence would force an audience to question the nature of the filming and its construction.”
At Jugend ohne Film, an online journal publishing in English and German, editor Patrick Holzapfel has put together a special focus on The Works and Days that includes his conversation with the filmmakers. “When we look at farmers and people doing physical labor,” says Winter, “so much of what they are doing is the duration of habit. It’s a habit that does not only come from their own life span of doing a skill but habit that was handed down across 11,500 years of farming. This brings us to the Hesiod poem Works and Days and this idea of farmers spending time in their geography. With Tayoko you see these kinds of habits. When we think about someone like Bresson, who would need up to seventy takes to get an actor to turn a doorknob with flat effect, we don’t need those seventy takes, because we are looking at actions that are trained by real labor, real exigencies. So they are ready to go on take one.”
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