In the Costa Rican jungle, a sloth named Cherry starts her ascent of a tree branch, ever so slowly putting one clawed foot in front of the other, seemingly lazily hanging on with such lack of engagement that she could drop to the ground at any moment, yet with so much experience of how to lounge in a tree there is not a chance of that happening. After a while of ascending to a place of optimum comfort, she pauses then stops altogether, watching the world go by...
Ben Rivers made Now, At Last! as a complement to his other short(ish) film of 2018, the more eventful Ghost Strata, which also concerned itself with the passing of time, though that was over the course of a year, and Cherry was hanging around for a mere day. Not that the film lasted that long, we exclusively got selected views out of that period with long takes, often on black and white 16mm but with two selected scenes which were not only in full colour, but colour separation too.
You were either going to have the reaction to this that it was excruciatingly boring, and that nothing was happening for forty minutes, or you would be able to adjust to its beyond gentle pace and appreciate the wonder of seeing the jungle through the experiences of one of its least active denizens. If it was the former, even the humour of the colour sequences were not about to convince you this was worth sticking with, but if it was the latter, you would be more attuned to nature documentaries that had grown more elaborate than this modest effort.
That said, most nature documentaries at least entertained a narration by some learned expert to tell us about the natural history of the beasts we were watching, and this had none of that, it was more or less the result of a camera trained on a sloth for the entire running time. If you were adjusted to the gradual progress of Cherry's day, this could be extremely relaxing, if the word "extreme" was precisely the right word to use, and if nothing else this would posit the jungle as a place of contemplation. You could just about buy that, unless you were very aware that there were plenty of things here quite happy to bite you.
Certainly those sloth claws looked as if they could do a bit of damage if Cherry had a mind to it, but the creature's mind appeared to be utterly wrapped up in taking it easy. Rivers added one very famous record to the colour parts, which was at once very funny in its bizarre juxtaposition, and also weirdly appropriate, as if this was the tune going through Cherry's mind. In the thrilling climax, she was slightly bothered by a fly and scratched her nose for a while, but by then if you were not immune to the charms of observing the natural world you were going to be thoroughly engaged, viewing time in a manner that was at once alien to humanity, yet also relatable since Cherry seemed to have life all worked out. That she was actually living in an animal sanctuary because illegal loggers were threatening her accustomed environment was the only thing that would kill her buzz, or indeed yours.
[Click here to watch on MUBI.]