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Stops of things 

Director Thomas Østbye refreshes his eyes on things and people. 


See, see, see. How often do we do that? All the time, of course, because we orient ourselves in the world and locate what serves us, what we can use, what is nice or satisfies some need. But just look? It is far rarer that we look and look, attentively, properly, thoroughly, at something that does not immediately matter to us or give us anything. Yes, just looking at a single object, an uncomplicated thing that is just there, without any explanatory context, without any immediate application.

Thomas Østbye's film Ting is about just things – what else – and maintains a long-
drawn, steady vision for us. For most of us, it probably doesn't happen very often that we take the time for this kind of reflection.

Things after things. The first thing we see is a rock, a bit mossy, maybe in a forest, rugged and heavy – at least it's not on the mountain, I think; autumn yellow ray clusters lie around it and it is half rounded by wind and weather. It is heavy, I see, and it is as if the faint jangling (or pushing) of the camera finds an equivalent in the stone's discrete massiveness where it lies, and probably has been for a long, long time. Hundreds, yes, maybe thousands, of years. How many have looked at this stone?

I don't know, but this is what I think of when Thomas Østbye's camera looks, and I look through it with him, with the director and everyone else who sees the stone with me and him. A viewing community with the film as a medium. It feels good.

Silence in the movement. The next thing we see is an unmade bed. Not dirty, rather slept for just a couple of three nights. The clothes are curled in small increments after a body has been lying there, or are there two? The more I see, the more I project stories into the set, into the thing, into the sheets' witness of progress (sex and sleep), and begin to dictate. Is it maybe not a couple who just got up? Is the man running the breakfast while the woman picks up the newspaper thinking that she wants fresh orange juice as she lets in the cat?

None of this is in the things – in the bed, in the curly sheet, not even in the duvets that are put on different duvet covers (one white, the other striped) – but still. This is what I see when I look long.

Stagnation and movement. Because when I see these things, I start to see more. People who use things, people who have been close to them and will soon come back to use them more. Or just look, like me, like Thomas Østbye.

I love this openness, this visual weightlessness, these floating images that lift my mind.

Later, there is a windshield with rain gutters that I can see. I look from the inside, like a driver or a passenger next to the driver. Here it does not stand still, here it is a car that drives fast, but at the same time the thing itself – ie the windshield, which is the thing I see – is stationary. It is the driving and the rain that creates the drama, the intense movements. The dynamics around drag the stagnant glass into a tale of bad weather and rapid movements. But even it stands still.

I love this openness, this visual weightlessness, these soaring images that lift my mind, that make me tell as a viewer, but which are all the way rooted in the things presented to me.

The power of patience. In the next picture: a small shell on a beach, late at night. I can see that, because the shade of the shell extends theatrically along the beach floor to the left of the thing. In the background, I hear it is flushing from the fires. The shadow grows, like a small spire or shadow sword, as it gets evening.

I look and see. But why should we just watch, and why do it for so long? Yes: To notice that the world is there as something other than utility. To train ourselves in the patience needed to notice something other than what we already notice. To realize that we can create stories and relationships even in a world that will cause us to swallow one story of money and utility after another.

It is this simplicity – the one that lies at the root of being ours in what is around us in the world – Østbye will refresh, perhaps even revive with Ting.

Leth and Østbye. In his previous movie Humans there were people Østbye saw for us. As in Ting was the simplified view we were presented with – people, only people, against an abstract, dark background. The people with their facial expressions, gestures, mimics. People who look at each other and people who look at you. This view is fundamentally analytic in that it shows the lives of faces and bodies through the ways in which they express themselves. There is nothing to be explained, everything is just shown, as it is, to the bone.

Humans can recall Jørgen Leths The perfect human by showing us human bodies that do very ordinary things, but Østbye makes it easier, cleaner. There is an epic impulse at Leth, a poetic complacency about how amazing the product is, which introduces a mildly indulgent tone into the expression. This is not available at Østbye. Leth's film is a masterpiece, but Østbye's film is more true, more direct, less theatrical and closer to face, body and life.

Effective learning piece in to se. I Ting He draws the analysis further by taking away all mimicry, all body, all faces and all expressions of purpose, moods and communication movement. We are left with things ourselves, and the analytics are linked to the potential training we can get by following Eastby's patient display (or development?) Of patient vision for us. Finally, we eventually look for a child, too, which to mark that the vision we get and are drawn into, is like a birth, a new beginning. It's not just stuff in Ting, but also a human.

The film is a lesson in that respect, because if we don't have the patience, we will become restless – but if we can keep up, what we see will reveal something more, something we haven't seen. These are visual meditations that teach us the art of simple vision and reveal to us that what is true, what exists, is already there if we just see and see. That's why it's so nice that this movie exists too – because it looks to us when we ourselves can't.

And when it does, it can give us the sight back.

The film will be shown at the Artists' House on March 29 at. 18.

For online subscribers, watch the movie here.

Kjetil Røed
Kjetil Røed
Freelance writer.

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