Made up of what must be less than 15 shots, Journey to the West was a majestic and joyous change from the other films I’ve seen at Edinburgh Film Festival. The film follows a Buddhist monk as he ventures across the city of Marseille, moving at the slowest and smoothest of speeds. Each shot lasts several minutes and gives the audience time to zone in and out of the piece; our eyes always returning to the priest who makes his gradually progress across the screen. Director Ming-liang Tsai is not only capturing a form of meditation but is also encouraging one from his audience. Such unconventional viewing is at first a challenge but it gradually enchants you into joining its peaceful rhythm. Whilst the monk’s movements remain the same throughout, the camera is free to experiment. Each shot captures something new and challenges us. We engage in this gentle development, looking out for the beloved man making such a deeply spiritual journey, as each new shot begins. It is an exaggeration to say that this is a film that brought to me some kind of inner peace. What it does do is make you aware of how quickly your thoughts are used to moving. Journey to the West‘s greatest achievement is the way that it makes us aware of the fast pace we live at. Not only the tempo we see around us in the modern world, but the aggressive momentum at which we function internally. Journey to the West is a challenging and therapeutic experience. Much like the monk it depicts, this film expects us to dedicate ourselves to severe inner concentration in order to get to our rewarding destination. Not only is it a joy to watch the conviction of one exceptional man but it is amusing to watch the reactions to those around him. Journey to the West is a fascinating commentary on our world, our nature and the potential of the human soul.
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