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Twenty Cigarettes
IMDB Rating: 5.6/10 from 48 votes
Release: 17 February 2011 (Germany) /

Twenty Cigarettes

Genre: Documentary, Drama
Director: James Benning,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Critic Reviews

James Benning's Twenty Cigarettes is an interesting endurance test for even the most hardened cinephile. Benning, a known rebel in cinema, making films about whatever he wants, has made a film featuring twenty subjects, most of whom are personal friends of Bennings, smoking a cigarette for an extended period of time. Some people smoke longer than others, others smoke rather quickly. Benning fixates the camera on the subject's bust, watches them smoke a cigarette, before cutting to black and moving onto the next person. The subjects almost always stand still as statues, with their eyes wandering and facial expressions largely remaining blank.

I call this film an "endurance test" because there is no dialog, no characters, no narration, no title cards even profiling the people when they are first seen, and there's no surface takeaway. Benning has stated he made the film so he could "look at people for an extended period of time without making excuses." This is an interesting statement because what Benning has essentially done is strip everything cinematic and personal about this particular film down to its bare minimum inclusions of people. With each person, we are forced to look at their subtleties, be their facial expressions, their gestures, their eye movements, the way they hold the cigarette, and so forth.

Benning stripping down the workings of a film, right down to getting us to pay attention to details, helps us reveal something about ourselves as film-watchers and people that may have otherwise went unsung or unnoticed. Whatever you focus on for extended periods of time or pay attention to in this film shows reveals what you look for in movies. As someone who loves richly painted characters and biting, conversational dialog in films, I found my eyes looking at the eyes of the people in this film. Some looked wide awake, some looked tired, some looked focused (the film's first smoker, a clear first-timer, seemed nothing but content on properly smoking his cigarette), some looked contemplative (the older male smoker, who turns out to be a British critical thinker, took sporadic drags and seemed to be during his fair share of thinking throughout his scene), and some looked entirely blank. When you deprive a film of dialog, character, plot progression, and a wide variety of shots, you're left to the human soul, who proves he or she can still be just as interesting.

However, I won't pretend like I sat completely still during Twenty Cigarettes. No doubt this is one of the most restless sits I've had with a film in a long time. Inevitably for most people, your mind will begin to wander, your thoughts will get the best of you, and some level of boredom will settle in. It is said Benning made this film whilst teaching a class on how to pay attention, which only fits for a film like this. Twenty Cigarettes really makes you look at yourself introspectively as not only a movie-water, but a person, and also works to exploit your level of patience while watching a film; like most of Benning's works, as well, it questions just what a film is. It's unique and frustrating, as most great experimental films are.

Directed by: James Benning.

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