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A Closer Look at Locarno Player, ‘Closing Time’

Taipei sets the scene for Swiss director Nicole Vögele’s meditative documentary

Switzerland’s Nicole Vögele is world premiering her documentary feature “Closing Time” in the Filmmakers of the Present section at the 2018 Locarno Festival.

Her first feature, “Nebel,” premiered in 2014 at Berlin, where it won a special mention in the Dialogue in Perspective section. It was while working on that project that the idea for “Closing Time” first came to the filmmaker.

“I was sitting in a night market in Taipei thinking, ‘Okay, there is something here, I would like to dig deeper,’” she explained in a conversation with Variety. “’There is something to find in this night-working thing they have going in Taipei.’”

“Closing Time” kicks off sometime around 3 AM on Zhongzheng Road. The early morning traffic of a 24/7 society fills each frame, revolving around the Little Plates with Rice restaurant, located on a multi-lane street beneath a major freeway overpass. It’s in this humble red-eye eatery that Mr. Kuo and his wife Mrs. Lin spend nearly all of their time, working at night and sleeping during the day.

Closing Time

“For me, it was very important to see them the way they see themselves,” Vögele pointed out. “They are consumed by their work. When you do this kind of work every night there is no energy for anything else.”

That nocturnal, non-stop lifestyle is shared by taxi drivers, shop workers, cleaners, arcade owners and the tattoo artist from across the street, who experience the restaurant as a place of refuge.

Vögele freely admits that it’s not an easy film, especially if one is expecting narrative or exposition. That doesn’t mean, however, that she thinks its reach is necessarily limited.

“I realized with my previous films that people are much more open to these types of movies than I once thought,” she reflected. “This one is for anybody that is open and willing to sit down and switch off the things running through their brain and go into the space of experience rather than expecting a narrative. It’s for people who are able to create their own narratives.”

The meditative nature of the film plays out in the colors, sounds, animals, storms and purple twilight skies, ever-present in the sleepy world of its characters. The camera rarely moves, and entire scenes play out in one Super 16-lensed sequence shot.

When asked about building a career outside of her native Switzerland, the Berlin-based director gave an answer that was as candid as her filmmaking.

“For me, it’s not important if I shoot a film in Taipei or in Zurich,” she said. “I think what really interests me is a really deep humanistic thing. Why are we here? What is human? I think that it’s not important where you do that.”

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