Closing Time (2018) Film Review

Written by Lucie Wang

Swiss Director Nicole Vögele’s Super 16mm film Closing Time, also happened to be her essay film during her documentary film study at the Film Academy Baden-Württemberg in Germany, follows Kuo and his wife the owners of a late-night eatery in the outskirts of Taipei city, along with taxi drivers, shop workers, cleaners, arcade owners, the tattoo artist next door and even the dog that is waiting for its owner to return when their shared nocturnal work routine begins. Closing Time, like many European avant-garde or experimental films, challenges the viewers’ narrative cinema experience with its meditative nature and scarce dialogue. However, such a film sure has its value to be made.

Under the impression that Closing Time was a documentary due to IMDB and other film festivals categorizing it that way, to one’s surprise, it turns out to be a docufiction, a genre that we are not giving the credit it deserves for the creative fictional approach it allows filmmakers to explore. For instance, the long take of Kuo riding his moped down the winding road in the mystical mountain as he was navigating his way out or back home was a light-bulb moment according to Vögele who documented Guo’s daily routine for months decided to break the convention one evening by shifting his course of direction and taking him to the mountain area. When asked her thoughts on the genre, her answer was as much as her film pushes one to think outside the box, “for sure there are small stories when people talked about something. Mostly we didn't put them on the timeline, say - ah this is one turning point seven, we put it at one hour ten - not at all. We just work from one to another. For the films I work, I don't believe in concepts or how you usually tell something. This is also why I decided to put that fictional part at the end. Usually you could finish the film there, or you could decide a nice ending or whatever. But just put something totally new there, and break the law of the film itself. For me or for us, that moment is right and that's why we did it.”

Other than the significant usage of long takes, symbolism can be seen throughout the film when the street cleaner sweeping with his shadow casting over the wall echoes the quote in the beginning of the film “When you only work in the night, you tend to forget you ever cast a shadow.” and the late-night workers who work longs hours tirelessly just like the waves wash up on the beach repeatedly. She explained the “It’s just the method of working that me and my cinematographer develop through. We went to film school together. We know each other from the very first year. And it’s something that just naturally started that all of our films have this pace. I wouldn’t say that is something that we explore when we make our scratch how our film should be. It’s just something that we going to the scenery, and then we sort of developed through some years our personal rhythm. And since we both like this slow pace, it’s just something that grew naturally. It’s more like our language of cinema that we developed through time.”

If you find the film a bit sad afterwards, you are not alone. Closing Time is not only a tribute to the night workers but also serves as a reminder to a 24/7, non-stop society such as Taiwan, which is often praised for its convenience and exciting night life, conveniently built on local cheap labor. The vast majority of people in Taiwan have taken the night workers' services for granted. Such a norm is rare or even non-existent in countries like Switzerland or Australia where labor is expensive. Vögele added “For me, it’s definitely a film with a certain sadness inside. It’s also about the beauty of routines, and the beauty of the normal and simple life. But, under lines or in between the lines or under certain layers. There is definitely also a worry and a sadness about where this capitalism robbed us in the end. And the reason why I decided to shoot this film and in this city, Taipei, was that experience when I saw this people working in the night was something so normal, and that stunned me. I live here in the central Europe, or I have been to the US. I know what my life at night means, but I have not encountered such a normality in it. And there was the thing that caught my attention that brought me to the point that I wanted to make a film about it then I came back to explore it. And I think yes, definitely, it’s also a shout to the world to say ‘look at what became normal’”.

Lookers-on see most of the game! This cannot be explored without highlighting the most debated yet unresolved issue in Taiwan -- minimum wage, which has not been truly raised in proportion to the ever-increasing cost of living for decades. A Closing Time to which is long-overdue.

Closing Time, streaming on-demand until 30 July. Watch Now.