A kind of Zen alternative to the outrages of psychiatric abuse revealed notoriously by Frederick Wiseman in "Titicut Follies," Jose Luis Torres' contemplative "The Time That Rests" observes the generally calm residents and staff at Jose Horwitz Barak psychiatric hospital in Santiago, Chile.

A kind of Zen alternative to the outrages of psychiatric abuse revealed notoriously by Frederick Wiseman in “Titicut Follies,” Jose Luis Torres’ contemplative “The Time That Rests” observes the generally calm residents and staff at Jose Horwitz Barak psychiatric hospital in Santiago, Chile. Deliberately not about medical treatment, patient-doctor relations or institutional bureaucracy, Torres’ film places the viewer within the patients’ and staffers’ environments. Slab of experience will win converts at major fests looking for a cutting edge doc, though tube buys are likely to be slim.

Given free access to apparently every nook and cranny (except for residents’ private rooms), one-man-band Torres seems to have spent considerable time in the hospital simply watching and listening before deciding to turn on his DV cam. As editor, he has stitched a tapestry of the sometimes lengthy, more often medium-length shots lensed with a static camera, free of zooms or any optical or physical moves.

Framed by brief but stunning montages of the natural world just outside the hospital windows, each of the film’s subtly built sections captures the rhythms of a typical day in the facility, from the busy foot traffic up and down long corridors, to the serving of lunch, to pick-up games of soccer in the hospital’s outdoor rec area.

There’s a slightly obvious tendency in some of Torres’ filmmaking (accented by repetitive use of a fragment of a Fred Frith piano composition) to dwell on the sheer loneliness of a life spent in the suspended circumstances of a psychiatric hospital, yet Torres’ capacity to find beauty anywhere — including a tiny sprig of grass, a trickle of water or a resident’s aged face — becomes astonishing by the film’s somehow satisfying conclusion.

In its act of turning away from political and social dimensions of psychiatry and treatment, “The Time That Rests” couldn’t be more different from the ’60s era of polemical docs on these issues, but it offers instead something so undeniably spiritual and thoughtful that it expands the documentary form’s cinematic possibilities.

A much-desired transfer to 35mm will only enhance the pic’s already gorgeous lensing, while Torres’ ear for natural sound (including an ironic snippet from an intercom playing “Release Me”) is remarkably acute.

The Time That Rests

Chile

Production

Produced, directed, edited by Jose Luis Torres.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Torres; music, Fred Frith; sound, Torres; sound designer, Carlos Barros; re-recording mixer, Barros; assistant director, Ivan Torres. Reviewed at Mexico City Film Festival, Feb. 23, 2007. (Also in Rotterdam Film Festival.) Running time: 86 MIN.
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