Now, at last!
Ben Rivers’ magnificent film of a sloth doesn’t encourage lazy viewing. Rather, it’s an active, engaging and engrossing experience. Cherry the sloth clambers up her favourite tree in the Costa Rican forest, hangs from it, and in turn the time we experience as viewers becomes suspended as each breath, every movement becomes a theatrical drama unfolding before our eyes. Perhaps implicitly poking fun at the term ‘slow cinema’, Rivers instead gives us an exquisite example of ‘sloth cinema’.
It’s a surprisingly rare proposition that we are able to spend such a quantity of time observing a wild animal in her own habitat, but Now, at last! isn’t a simple nature documentary. Though its observational function is certainly rewarding, Rivers sets off an unexpected flip of the viewer’s expectations at several points throughout the film.
A candy-coloured punctuation of the slow action, the film’s otherwise black and white cinematography is interrupted by colour 16mm, additionally manipulated through separation filters. Atop the immersive soundtrack of the jungle setting, we hear a live version of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody”. Singer Bobby Hatfield comments implicitly on the film: “Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much…”
When one learns the song was written as the theme to a 1950s prison film, extra relevance is placed on our protagonist’s freedom. Cherry is unchained and able to live and love as she wants. We need to make sure that she (and all her sisters and babies) will have the clean, healthy and stable environment to continue to live that way well into the future. —Herb Shellenberger