Winner of the Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance 2023, Waiting for the Light to Change is remarkably, well, non-narrative.
The directorial debut of Linh Tran, the film observes a group of five twenty-somethings – Alex (Erik Barrientos), Lin (Qun Chi), Kim (Joyce Ha), Amy (Jin Park), Jay (Sam Straley) – as they spend a week at a Michigan lake-house. I say observes: Linh employs long, formally-composed shots, bodies fully framed or at a distance; lit unassumingly by natural light.
Some of our studies are old friends, others friends or relations of friends. Linh’s script scatters details, revealing the connections between them at a measured pace. There’s no plot of which to speak, just characters spending time together; each dealing with their own doubts, insecurities, and lack of direction.
It’s a hangout movie if, instead of the jocks and stoners from Dazed and Confused, we were getting to know a group of depressed, introverted Gen Z.
Even at 88 minutes, Waiting for the Light to Change qualifies as “slow cinema”. It’s naturalistic, even supernaturalistic (if that’s not a contradiction in terms). The dramatic tension suggest by the film’s IMDb synopsis feels like an arbitrary element on which to focus.
This is the work of an auteur without fingerprints. Tran’s interest seems to be simply on observing the individual experience at a distance. As two character’s talk, their dialogue playing over, we follow a third, wandering solitarily along the shore. A sequence of close-ups as the characters gather on a breakwater feels disruptive, intrusive; even as we, or I at least, remain at an Eisensteinian emotional distance.
Those on its wavelength might say that you get out what you put it. If more is less then Waiting for the Light to Change is everything. Those without such a contemplative disposition might merely say that it lives up to its title.
Waiting for the Light to Change is available on DVD and VOD from October 20th, 2023