What a weird pairing this is! These posts aren’t necessarily double-feature recommendations, but…I watched Chess of the Wind and Buzzard on the same day and it works!
Mohammad Reza Aslani’s lost 1976 film-
-is waiting to be a classic. With a clear nod (maybe a vigorous head shake, actually) to Diabolique it’s pulpy, atmospheric, and scathing. Almost the entirety of the film takes place in a mansion as a family and their servants navigate relations and murder.
Aslani returns time and again to a motif of hands:
I feel like there are, broadly speaking, two times to use these kinds of inserts. #1: exposition – the thing we’re seeing closer is important and will come back later. #2: rhythm and theme – the things we’re seeing here don’t necessarily hold narrative value, but instead speak to the overall. These are #2, Bresson-ian (also in their lensing quality, I think – not super tight, framed to give room to move), and thematic: this is such a movie about exchange – of information of doubts of guilt.
Aslani also consistently returns to this shot. It’s of the servants washing clothes and chattering outside. I think we see it at least four times, and each time we push in:
It’s not always easy to identify who is there and who is speaking. That’s part of the point. This is a mass of people, not individuals (I don’t mean that literally, and neither does Aslani, but there is something tongue-in-cheek about the specificity and individualism of the upper class versus those shown here). This sequence is also used emotionally – as things come to a head a storm brews and the scene gets chaotic. It’s foreboding.
My favorite scene of the film is this one between Kouchak (Fakhri Khorvash) and the maid (Shohreh Aghdashloo). It’s after a few tense scenes have past. We’re not sure who is in league with whom. The two begin in this medium 2-shot below, but we soon cut out to a wide. The maid pushes Kouchak right to left, and we move into another wide:
They talk, we linger in that wide, and then to another one – we’ve now traveled 270 degrees of the room in wides. Then tighter as she pushes Kouchak past a statue:
Tighter still for another shot that hits the earlier motif and builds to an erotic beat. And then out to a final ide, completing the circle:
There’s something about cutting wide to wide with simple screen direction that has both sameness and difference (same frame, different location, simply) that is evocative. It’s like things are changing but aren’t. This is a slow trudge and a delicate dance and keeping it in those first few wides keeps the emotional charge distant, but also draws us in, allowing us to see their bodies, the maid’s increasingly casual shift in movement (her changes here are fantastic!), and a space that – like the entire house – offers room to move and prison walls at once.
The two shots around the statues are great. We elongate the moment – making the turn into the tighter, sexual frame unbearably slow. When we cut out to the final wide it’s like nothing has changed but everything has.
I’m sad to say that this is my first Joel Potrykus film. Buzzard is awesome. It’s hilarious and then decidedly not. It has a great, poignant ending. For a film that has a scene where a guy (Derek, played by Potrykus) lays next to a treadmill trying to catch as many Bugles in his mouth as he can-
–Buzzard reaches surprisingly meaningful heights. That shot, by the way, is absolutely hilarious. I haven’t laughed out loud that hard at something in a film in awhile.
Potrykus mostly stays in one shot for a scene. There are a few shot-reverse exchanges, including a really well-played climactic one, but for the most part he relies on the face and performance of lead Joshua Burge, playing slacker, anti-capitalist, and loner Marty Jackitansky (whose name is not Polish). It works. Burge’s face is so watchable and emotive. The first scene, where he closes his checking account in order to reopen it immediately to take advantage of a cash offer…all while on break from that very company is really well-written and well-played, Burge feeling every beat and taking his time.
There’s an ending that I won’t spoil, but it leads to something as freeing as the Dardennes or Carax can be-
Wayne Wang’s Chan Is Missing is a landmark independent film. Made in 1982 for less than a shoestring, the film boasts really incredible, genuine performances, in something like a missing-person search through San Francisco’s Chinatown. I thought of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy a bit during this film – totally different in its representation and sense of place, but both Wang’s film and Auster’s novellas rework the detective genre – particularly the hardboiled noir detective – into something that’s more about the streets and the investigator (and the genre itself) than the case.
I love Chan for the characters – including Peter Wang, who directed The Great Wall Is A Great Wall – and its anti-look at SF. Meaning: think of a San Francisco-set film and you get the usual suspects: Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Vertigo. Get into the 1980s and you get 48 Hours, Big Trouble In Little China. They’re all (with one exception, noted in a moment) hills and chases, trolleys and bridges. Wayne Wang gives us one glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, in a parked car moment of reflection. Otherwise, we’re in it: in kitchens and small apartments, on streets and most notable, in taxis. This film moves, it travels, it looks. We’re passenger and driver, navigating cramped streets. There’s no sense – visually, I mean – that we’re in a small pocket of one of the largest cities in the world. Chinatown is the city in Chan Is Missing, and that’s what makes it great.
**To note: sure, Big Trouble In Little China takes place in Chinatown, but when you enter via Kurt Muscle in a truck and immediately get gangs throwing weaponry, you’re not in it for authenticity**
There’s more than just a homemade appeal of a community though. Wang has technique. A beautifully blocked scene between Wood Moy and Marc Hayashi as they walk near water has all the timing and drama of what we might associate with a larger production. The film deftly alternates light comedy and a world-heaviness. These performances don’t just fall off the truck, either. They characters are specific, unique, as are each of the interviewees.
Mira Nair’s debut, which famously started a fund for the very “street children” she employed in the lead roles, is delicately staged realism. Somewhere between Pixote and City of God, Nair’s film features a terrifying performance from Nana Patekar (as Baba Golub), who switches from such charm to mania on a dime. His performance is my favorite part of the film, though the young actors who make up the fabric of the movie hold it together well.
Nair’s movie starts in the countryside-
-and Krishna’s (Shaifq Syed) journey to Bombay is my favorite part. In most films this would be act one, or it would at least encompass more than a hard cut. Could Nair not get permission to shoot on a train? Did she not want the extra hassle of it? Or was it not logistical and entirely creative? Regardless, it really works. Krishna is abandoned (we learn more of his rich backstory later), gets a ticket with a winking note about Bollywood from the teller, boards a train and then is almost immediately disembarking. No long winding journey.
When we arrive in Bombay we get there looking right at possibility:
…but it’s all false. A play, I think, against the popular underdog Bollywood narrative. There’s no chance at stardom for Krishna here – and that’s made clear by the easy bypassing of these paper posters. We get a glimpse, but it’s not real, unattainable. Then we move on, into the real world:
Wow, this film. This would be so hard to make. So many characters, often speaking all at once, almost always in a crowd (one of the points of the movie: it’s hard to be alone or an individual when you always want to be part of the group). The film is frenetic in great ways, it’s hard to pinpoint the lead for a little bit, but it careens ahead with the same energy as its reckless protagonist.
The opening titles suggest as much:
And the scene that follows, shot in a dark, loud party, is drunk, frantic, and fast. We meet a lot of people, we don’t know who they all are, it doesn’t matter. It feels like being in a party in your 20s:
I loved this scene, almost immediately thereafter. Some great blocking in here. Sophie Letourneur uses characters receding and coming to the foreground to keep the conversations going and fresh. Their movements are timed together (good to remember: it almost always feels good in blocking for things to happen simultaneously!), and there’s never a stop to the forward momentum. From a technical standpoint that means a lot of odd speed changes for camera and/or actors. It’s precise while still feeling like the early-morning, drunken sloppiness that it portrays. That’s hard to do:
I watched The Crazies last year, but never got to blog about it. It’s great and felt rather on-the-nose during the height of the pandemic. It’s about paranoia and disease, but it’s really also just a great George Romero film with dark and funny set pieces. Like this sequence where a virus task force infiltrates a house, only to be confronted by an old woman, smiling and dangerous.
It’s played so serenely, which makes it work so well. The urgency is entirely on the side of the biohazard-suit-wearing agent.
The mise-en-scene here is great – from frilly blouse to flowered wallpaper to blue-green wool, it’s all grandma’s house.
Even that staircase. I think Romero must’ve liked the odd juxtaposition of characters like this in a space like this. And while it’s comedic in its way, it’s also prescient and on-point: a virus can make anyone vulnerable and anyone dangerous.
These films don’t really have much in common aside from an egotistical male lead, but Repentance and Obsession (AKA The Hidden Room) do use a similar technique that I want to highlight.
Some SPOILERS below.
Repentance is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. It might be one of the best films I’ve seen. It’s a good cousin with A Report On The Party and Guests or A Face In The Crowd.
When Varlam (Avtandil Makharadze), the mayor of a small Georgian town, dies, his corpse keeps mysteriously turning up in public places. It leads to a chase, a trial, and flashbacks delineating his despotic rule.
Repentance is an absolute coup in casting. It’s one of the most important parts of cinema, right? Well Tengiz Abuladze nails it with Makharadze. His grin is at once cunning and innocent. He’s got a Winnie-the-Pooh thing going on. He can be boisterous and silly in one moment, and harsh and cynical the next. I thought of “The Master and Margarita” in many of these ways, and of The Conformist in how, in a few key scenes, we learn that there’s often (always?) someone else in the shadows calling the shots.
One of the best ideas in here is the reflection on Varlam’s glasses-
It’s used so intentionally. It gives him an ethereal quality – unknowable. It’s like he’s hard to look at because of the glare.
Or sometimes Abuladze and cinematographer Mikhail Agranovich shoot him in harsher light, the shadow of his glasses casting down like a snake along his cheeks, emphasized further by the round smile he has:
There are moments of surrealism in Repentance, like this dance with the corpse that paints the entire thing as casual, the coffin as a bed one might roll over and get comfortable in (read: Varlam won’t die, even when he’s underground):
Here’s the longer scene I want to write about. Varlam and Mikheil (Kakhi Kavsadze) argue about the exile of Sandro (David Giorgobiani). We start in wide, then cut into Varlam’s clean single, roughly at eye level. The reverse on Mikheil is also clean, slightly high. We cut a little closer to Varlam, a little more frontal:
Then back to Mikheil, also closer now, and down at his level. Mikheil rises and we pan him a tighter single, basically matching Varlam’s:
Back to Varlam, tighter now…and then to the next shot below. Right on the line, claustrophobic single. Mikheil knocks his glasses off (not pictured here – only the aftermath is), and we end on this foreboding close-up:
It’s a great example of cinematic language that moves us in closer and closer. I like eyelines, and here Varlam’s just get tighter throughout. As the tension builds, so too do the eyelines get closer to the lens.
It’s such a key moment when we get the shot that ends the scene – entirely open to camera, uncomfortable. It’s a change. It’s like when an actor or someone else in the public eye knows to use their best features. Here it’s Abuladze’s camera that does that, but somehow it tracks for Varlam. At key moments, when the charm or rage needs to turn on, he’s there – wholly revealed, plain and open, glasses twinkling or glaring (depending on your interpretation). It’s this beat that marks a true change in the narrative and we really feel it.
Edward Dmytryk‘s Obsession is a very well-made thriller. It’s structure is fun and surprising – not many suspense films have the antagonist lurch out of the shadows for all to see in act one.
I always think of Dmytryk as one of the Hollywood Ten – a black mark in history and an unfortunate way to recall a great director. His Murder, My Sweet and Crossfire are also great.
Robert Newtown is great as Doctor Riordan, jealous husband and sociopath. Opposite him is Phil Brown as Bill Kronin. The alternate title refers, of course, to a place where Riordan keeps Kronin, waiting for the perfect moment to kill him. In a key sequence, Kronin is on the ground chained. We get a high angle of him watching, and then a shot to Riordan’s back (Kronin’s POV):
The next shot is what brought me back to Repentance.
Head on to Kronin as the reality of his situation sinks in. Tighter frame, eyeline just cast to the right of the lens, nearly looking at us down the barrel, so to speak. It’s a brief moment and then, after the horror has settled, we jump back out:
It’s like momentarily entering Kronin’s brain (a similar claim can be made for Repentance). How do you show “dawning realization”? Well, the actor can play it, but the camera can support it, and when Dmytryk cuts from the objective to the subjective at the perfect moment, we find that harmony between actor and lens.
This is my first Nouchka van Brakel film and it won’t be my last. It’s so steadily handled. I thought of Bill Forsyth in the easy way of depicting a certain age and energy on-screen. “Lolita” comparisons will come easily, but the stand-in for Humbert Humbert, Hugo (Gerard Cox) isn’t the focus here. There’s so much in this movie about Carolien (Marina de Graaf) – her navigating teenage cliques, her relationship with her mother (such a beautifully drawn bond), her curiosity and independence.
For all of the men in the film (Hugo, Carolien’s father, a male teacher, a dangerous young man at school) a lot of this film is about how Carolien looks to, or finds, women for the act of growing up.
One of my favorite moments in the film comes when Hugo and Carolien go out to eat for the first time. Carolien walks into the bathroom and we catch her in the mirror. Cut to another patron from the restaurant – very fancy. She approaches Carolien and we pan them into a tight 2-shot.
The woman helps Carolien with her makeup. She applies eyeshadow. When the camera pulls away from the mirror it’s enchanting – ew know we’ve been in a reflection, but it’s like we forgot. It’s like we’re drifting from a fantasy to reailty, from girlhood to adulthood. The scene is wordless, intimate, so full of mood, knowing, compassion:
We cut out to Hugo’s reaction (a note on that edit below), and then to Carolien. She sits and we get a long dolly out to a profile 2-shot, which is as romantic a move as you can have here:
I love that we start – once outside the bathroom – with Hugo and not with Carolien. I’m sure the editor could have done either, but starting with Hugo prolongs the moment (not so much a “reveal” as a kind of a slow motion dance). Starting with him allows us to see her through his eyes – how stunned he is. If we start with her then it makes her somehow more confident – as though using Hugo as a bridge between bathroom and Carolien sitting takes her off what might seem like a runway, striding out of the bathroom, and keeps it smaller and in the moment.
Some Other Films I’ve Seen Recently, just a few thoughts
Licorice Pizza (Anderson, 2021)
There’s so much running in this film! Everyone is always sprinting somewhere. Licorice Pizza is kind of like a musical. Not really because of the soundtrack, but because of how we move with so much energy from scene to scene, how there’s some form of spontaneity, how problems get solved rather easily – (I’m thinking of running along that traffic jam or the cops suddenly arresting Gary (Cooper Hoffman).
Sundown (Franco, 2021)
What a Tim Roth performance! All slouch. It felt like Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice. This film oozes and is dangerous. I agree with Anthony Lane’s review that there’s an ending reveal that takes away from its beautiful enigma, but Sundown, and the way it moves from malaise to sudden and sharp drama, back to malaise, is great.
Everything Everywhere All At Once (Daniels, 2022)
Super-fun film and best seen with a crowd. The outlandish becomes meaningful in a Daniels film. How do you make some of these sequences? Many are so elaborate and precise. It’s expert filmmaking that way. Love the performances from Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis!
Luzzu (Camilleri, 2021)
This is one I’d have liked to write more about, if for no other reason than the scene where Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) returns his eponymous boat. It’s heart-wrenching and beautiful personification. Is this the first Maltese film I’ve seen? I like it so much just for a look at the culture and the land. Amazing colors. Realist cinema.
Death Laid An Egg (Questi, 1968)
AKA Plucked. This movie is absurd and great. I’d also have liked to blog in more detail about it, particularly the way that Giulio Questi hides what Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant – is there anyone who can play elusive and possibly up to no good, better?) is really up to. Chicken montages! Hilarious shock cut from mutant chicken bodies to Gabrielle’s (Ewa Aulin) body.
Alexandre Koberidze’s What Do We See When We Look At The Sky? is its own film. What movies are coming out of Georgia these days! Voiceover heavy, full of wonder, romantic, ironic…What Do We See has a love for children, dogs, and football, for the small town of Kutaisi, and for the rhythms of life. Its cadence reminds me a little bit of things like Meshes of the Afternoon and Le Quattro Volte.
For a film that poses a neck-craning titular question, we spend a lot of time in the movie looking at the ground. Giorgi (Giorgi Ambroladze…at the time) and Lisa’s (Ani Karseladze…at the time) first meeting is shot entirely via their feet. We look at light patterns, soccer balls, and household items.
Here, Giorgi (now played by Georgi Bochorishvili) tosses a ball into the air. Koberidze cuts to the ground. And holds for a beat…
…until a glass falls and shatters. Then cut to broken glasses rolling on the table, and Giorgi taking a newspaper:
There’s such an insistence on small events, and ones that seem to have such gravity somehow. You get the feeling that Koberidze feels that a ball causing a glass to break is as monumental as the fantastical inciting incident of the movie. And that seems to be an important part of What Do We See. If we can spend a segment on dogs going to different locations to watch the World Cup, why can’t we linger on nearly anything else? Isn’t that, after all, part of the rhythm of small time life?
But it’s not just that. I think this hints at something bigger. Koberidze ignores the event here. Ball goes up in Giorgi’s full shot. Glass falls and shatters in the subsequent high angle of the floor. The ball doesn’t come down. There’s not even the sound of the hit. It’s like it didn’t happen. He skips the middle, the glue, so to speak. It’s a bit of small magic – how are these two seemingly totally separate events connected? It’s sorcery! That’s part of his thesis throughout the film: that the connective tissue of life is intangible and difficult to pin down. That what makes event A turn into event C is sometimes the expected (gravity and carelessness, in this case), but that it’s often the unseen and unknowable.
This is the kind of thing that only works if you do it consistently in a film, otherwise there’s a risk of feeling one-off or untethered, and Koberidze does it everywhere.
Here’s another bit of technique and theme (form and content! Imagine that!). Lisa goes to see someone about her “condition” (working to avoid spoilers here). A student leaves the room, and the two women enter. The camera, motivated by their movement, tilts down, leaving them entirely, and landing on the shiny table. The blinds are drawn. The table darkens:
Some off-screen talking while we catch reflections as the table is reassembled. A beat and then a cloth-covered tray lands. The coffee is revealed:
Alongside the aforementioned penchant for looking down, this scene avoids the “event” in a different way. Rather than slice it out of the middle as per the last scene, it just ends before it really begins. This like “early-in, early-early-out”. The next shot takes us to a new place and time entirely.
So what’s the point of the scene, aside from a clever use of light, movement, and reflection to keep the action going in one ambiguous shot (a feat, in and of itself)? It seems to me to favor custom and culture over narrative – another way of saying, I think, that the rhythms and patterns of the town, of life, are really at the core of this movie.
So what do we see when we look at the sky? Well in one great sequence, we watch a football go up and down as we cut back to the joyful reactions of kids, in slow-motion, in the midst of the game:
If these shots were out of context you might think that this was an ecstatic reunion. But it’s just the game. The ball is the sun (so both are what we see…). It feels rather otherwordly – the replaced globe, the high frame rate….
Until it falls back to earth.
I bet Koberidze also just liked the suggestiveness of the title. It’s evocative and offers endless meaning, particularly for a film that revels in small action, sun-drenched streets, and characters who are perpetually nonplussed despite some quite daunting obstacles.
Another great Céline Sciamma film, Petite Maman is deceptively simple and narratively daring. I read an interview where the author makes the point that there is no antagonist in Petite Maman. That the tension that a traditional film would inevitably draw to the surface is simply and expeditiously done away with here via dialogue.
Instead, Petite Maman focuses on theme and emotion. I always think of narrative film as the intersection of all of the above: theme, emotion, tension, dramatic structure, and so forth. But Sciamma’s film works wonderfully without much tension. There are dramatic questions in here, but they aren’t urgent. I suppose the top one is either “how is this happening” (unanswered), or “where is Nelly’s mother (Nina Meurisse)” (nothing drives towards this).
Instead, Petite Maman works so well as excavation of memory, exploration of loss, and coming-of-age. It’s also – speaking as a relatively new father – one of the best films about the child-parent relationship that I can recall. A scene where Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) sits in the back seat of the car, gives her mother something to eat and drink, and then hugs her, is so warm and beautifully realized, shifting effortlessly from Nelly to mom as the game begins and culminates.
Sciamma’s film, like Koberidze’s prioritizes rhythm. Every film has some kind of a rhythm, but Petite Maman‘s feels almost like breathing. There’s an ebb and flow that’s tender and curious. Sometimes it’s playful – as when Nelly hurries to bed so that she can start on the new day (so well written) – and the cut on the bedroom light going out brings us to EXT. FOREST – MORNING. Like the night didn’t happen. Success!
Some of it though is less obvious. Like this sequence.
Nelly jokes with her father (Stéphane Varupenne) at the table. Cut to her brushing her teeth in the bathroom in a MS:
Into her MCU profile as she finishes. Cut out into the hallway. She turns out the light and walks down, looking in at her mother’s room:
Her MCU profile as she looks. Then to, ostensibly, her POV…until she enters it:
She sits on the bed, lays down, and we match cut to daytime:
The sequence crackle’s. How do you shoot absence? Well, this is how. The cut away from dad to the bathroom is a simple one, but it really feels like a way to get rid of him without any questions. That MS behind her in the bathroom is not only great because of the beautiful composition and production design (blue on blue, the wonderful tile, and the red towel), but also because we go from this warm shot-reverse (albeit in clean singles and with wide eyelines) to something briefly alienating.
Much of this is about time. We hold on her brushing her teeth. No dad off-screen or wiping frame. Things get ghostly here. From the silhouette as she walks down the hall, to the false POV (entering her own – I will perpetually a) think of Blow-Up, and b) try to mimic and use this technique), to the thoughtful and rather grown-up sit, to the ending match that again expunges time but in a rather different way from the aforementioned.
Here, Nelly doesn’t want to get past night in order to find to the day and playtime. She falls, exhausted, temporarily playing or become her mother. It’s as though in these few beats she’s the other half of the worn marriage, a person too young to seem so old, defeated and sprawled. You get the sense that the shots between her MCU peering into the bedroom, and her asleep on the bed in the morning don’t actually exist. That they’re somehow transportive or memory, or superimposition.
Full disclosure: the filmmakers behind Playdurizm are friends of mine. That doesn’t make this wildly neon full-on weirdo any less fun. I immediately thought of Sion Sono’s Antiporno while watching it. I guess for the color scheme, but also the space (much more on that below), and the performance (performative, I think) style.
Playdurizm also isn’t just a quick bit of fun. It’s got something more on its mind, and though writer/director Gem Deger revels in absolute camp at times (the film within the film is exactly that, and it’s also one of my favorite parts), the camp is always tamped down by something lingering just outside the brain. It’s not really the typical narrative questions that do that – why is Gem’s Demir here? Where is here? What the %*&! is going on? – but rather that too many things seem amiss about the world to ever find comfort in the camp.
I’ve got an interview with producers Steve Reverand and Martin Raiman at the end of this post. There are SPOILERS in that interview and in the rest of the post below, so I strongly recommend you watch Playdurizm before continuing.
SPOILERS to follow.
I’m interested in how different filmmakers conceive of and lay out the space. Steve and Martin give some great answers about this in the interview. Most of Playdurizm takes place in one apartment. It has, to my eye, four or five doors (I can’t quite tell if there’s a fifth one next to the Demir’s room), and a narrow hallway leading to a main kitchen/living room area. As a concept it seems to me pretty simple: everything pushes down that hallway. There are so many scenes where we follow characters from the back of the hallway into the open room or vice-versa. It’s like, if you’ll forgive the on-the-nose image, a neck leading to a brain.
It must be that, when designing the space, Deger, DoP Cédric Larvoire, and production designer Jitka Sivrova, thought of the advantages of that narrow space: the ability to isolate characters, a perfect nook for voyeurism. It also rings of classic comedy. I think of it as door-comedy. Lubitsch and Étaix come to mind right away. The sheer motion of doors constantly opening and closing becomes the gag. Playdurizm never reaches that exact level, but it’s designed for it, and in the moments when it’s funny, some of that implicitly comes from the space (what exactly is behind that door immediately opposite Demir’s? What’s outside of the apartment, for that matter?).
It seems to me that there are two broad ways to treat space in a film. 1) Space is where the story exists, but layout can be interchangeable; 2) Space dictates narrative. For the latter, think of something like Rear Window. You need that view out of the window – that proximity. Playdurizm is the former. The rooms could be mixed and matched and the story would remain the same. Still, the visualization of it, the blocking within it, is a challenge.
Here’s a look at an early sequence. Demir wakes up in some, very odd room. A pig on the bed, balloons at his feet. This is also a nice view of the all-encompassing, thoughtful color design of the movie:
Demir gets up and looks bottom frame left. Eyeline match/POV to some Warhol-styled images of Andrew (Austin Chunn). Then to a wide (a true: where the hell are we?), and back to that MCU as we follow Demir, handheld, past the wall of Francis Bacon-looking images, and to the door. Sidenote: I love that yellow light popping out from the crack in the door. Nice way to separate it, to hint at something “beyond,” and to keep the palette varied:
Demir stops at the mirror to look at himself. Cut outside the room and operate with him, revealing the hallway and the room beyond. This is our first space-establisher and it really does the trick. Simple stuff. Wide behind Demir and we get it…sort of.
I also love the design in the hallway. Those zebra stripes are disorienting. The lights hang a bit too low. It’s fun…but claustrophobic. It’s like a funhouse mirror: kind of sickening. The pale open room beyond looks (intentionally) like a refuge in comparison:
Demir looks frame left and sees Drew (Issy Stewart), then back to his MCU as he looks frame right and sees, via POV, Andrew (I don’t quite know about the similarity of those names…I’ve got an idea, but it’s plot-heavy). He retreats:
So we’ve got Demir’s room at the end of the hallway, on the right (if looking from the living room), and then a spacious living room with a kitchen attached.
Later in the film, Andrew walks straight down the hallway and we follow him straight back into the master bedroom, revealing more of the layout:
At another point, after Demir is puking in the bathroom (which I think is somehow attached to his room), Andrew comes out of the mystery room – directly opposite Demir’s:
That small blocking bit above, of Andrew checking on Demir through the closed door, just adds to our reassurance that everything is where we’ve been told it is.
When Jeremy (Christopher Hugh James Adamson in a wacky performance – more on performance in the interview) arrives later, we see directly behind Demir. and we’re looking at a door. Is that Demir’s room? I thought the mystery room was opposite Demir’s. This is the front door, which I think is on the same side as the mystery room, just closer to the living room. So what’s that other door behind Demir? Am I over-reading? Maybe the door is just a door.
Anyway, we can extrapolate some practical images of the set. I imagine that the bathroom, not pictured here, is a totally separate space and we’re sold on its location through sound and the edit; I’d guess that there’s actually nothing in that mystery room and it wasn’t designed; and I’d guess that the hallway where Jeremy stands also doesn’t really exist.
What does all of this matter? Well, for one, Playdurizm is very much a “space of the mind” and the slight disorientation details, from design elements through, yes, doors, matter. They add up. It’s kind of a “What’s behind door #1?” feeling. When we’re in the bathroom with Demir I start to wonder – how large is this place? It’s not exactly cavernous or labyrinthine, but it also doesn’t seem to be as small as a narrow hallway, a main room, and two medium sized bedrooms let on.
Some of these decisions might have been budget-dependent, but they’re sharp. It gets me thinking of the correct questions. I don’t question whether Demir’s bedroom is next to Andrew’s for narrative reasons, but I do question the realism of the architecture, which I’m certain is what the filmmakers want.
For a film that’s about entering into a maze, into the impossible, Playdurizm sure has a lot of trap doors and playful geography.
INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCERS STEVE REVERAND AND MARTIN RAIMAN
What was the workflow on-set with Gem directing and actors? Was Gem also directing other actors? How about blocking out and choreographing shots?
Steve: So there’s maybe a couple of key things to start with, that will give it some context. Playdurizm was a debut feature for Gem and for us producers. On top of working on a tight budget and schedule, we knew we would have a bigger chance at succeeding at what we wanted to do, if we prepared the shoot extremely well, and embraced the constraints. The ones easily identifiable are the location and small cast. We had Gem and the screenwriter Morris Stuttard work on a new draft of the story that was originally proposed to us, that would be more intimate focused. From the time we had the final draft, we basically had 6 months of pre-production only, including casting from scratch. First of all, we had an open discussion on who would play Demir (who was called Edward in the original draft). Gem wanted to originally focus his energy on directing. But it was clear that the protagonist was Gem’s alter ego, he’s had the premise of this story since he was seventeen, and we all might regret not having him as the main driving force of this project, both for the crew we motivated to work with us, and the audience that would need to identify to the young artist who created all of this. The second step was to do a sort of screen test. But it actually was used as a kind of rehearsal as well to see how things would work with performing and directing the other actors. From that, we managed to clarify a lot of things in terms of blocking, camera style, and pacing on set. We also agreed that we would need to rehearse the hell out of it in pre-production to lock-in the performances for all the scenes, and that we would bring Morris as an associate director to help supervise the process. Gem and him had been working on the script for so long, that there was a 100% trust in his judgement. We started with table reads but then scheduled two months of rehearsals with all the cast in a studio apartment, everything was recorded and played back so we could adjust blocking and performances. The cinematographer Cedric Larvoire even stopped by to assist with choreographing some of the most complex scenes (I’m thinking of not only some stunt scenes, but also the first kitchen scene). We even welcomed Joshua the pig for the last few days of rehearsals, so we could all get accustomed to each other. On set, we were very efficient. There was not a lot of improvisation. Morris was also present to watch the take live and discuss any adjustment with Gem before the next take. Gem would only play back the last take if he felt he needed to check a detail in the frame, because he got a quick sense of what was working or not working from the hours spent in rehearsals. There is only one scene he did not watch any frame of until he was shown the assembly edit, and that is the climax scene in the video store. It was extremely intense and draining psychologically for the actors, we did I think 2 or 3 takes, and we all were looking forward to a weekend break after that.
How did DOP and director worked together on this?
Steve: Gem and Cedric worked on the shot list together. We pushed for it to be minimized so we could have a chance to shoot all of it within the schedule (we had about 400 shots in total in 20 days), so some sacrifices were made, but it was also made up by how creative we could be with the set design and the lighting. Gem not only had digitally painted key scenes of the film during the development of the script, but he also shared visual references with Cedric (from the work of Benoit Debbie to Gucci look books and Francis Bacon paintings, which were even directly references in the film) and Cedric worked with there, along with the production designer Jitka Sivrova. The advantage of being on one set for the entire shoot was that it became their creative playground. But once again, everything was prepped before we started shooting and we rarely fully improvised on set. Only exceptions I remember were maybe Drew’s hallucination and the club scene where we just went with the flow a bit more. Cedric was his own camera operator and it was a small crew on set, so the communication was easy between Cedric, Morris, Gem and the other actors.
How was the external world conceived? I’m thinking of anytime they’re outside – outside the video store, a wide on the road, on the boat, at the drive-through place for food…was there a connecting thread to how that world should be perceived? An operating thesis about it? It seems to me to oscillate between a wide beauty (road, boat), and rough facades that are built or even largely unseen (video store, drive-through).
Martin: One main element that drove those exteriors came from the need to tie everything together with the studio and fitting it into the narrative that this is a B-movie from the US. Since the production was located in the Czech Republic it would have been nearly impossible to properly emulate the roads and facades of the US. But we are also fans of the CG aesthetic of the late 90s and it was tempting to use our resources to create these artificial fake environments. It works very well in combination with the fakeness of the studio. Ultimately it fuses with the idea that even the exterior is a concoction of Demir’s mind that is affected by what media he has consumed in the past. The exterior world feels to be limited further as to create small comfortable spaces where Demir feels safe. Of course we would have loved to expand on the exteriors and use much more but it is of course also always a financial question. I believe in the end we found a good balance with the CG/studio approach in fulfilling Gem’s vision of this world without sacrificing the integrity of the story.
Were there conversations about riding a line between camp and more delicate drama? I’m just thinking of the fact that the movie features bright green vomit while dealing with very traumatic, sensitive issues. I love how these elements fit together, though they’re an unlikely pair. Were they in the script? What were the design conversations like?
Steve: It was absolutely in the script, and that’s what attracted us in the first place. Playdurizm is escapism. In a similar way to Demir, Gem grew up devouring films during his entire childhood. He remembers watching Videodrome when he was I think 10, and lots of 90s erotic thrillers. It was the door to fantasy where he found refuge from the real world. We see this pattern in a lot of people from his generation and younger. With the advent of instagram, youtube, video games and avatars, living a fantasy is now a more accessible thing. One has a chance to create their own alternative reality which they think they can control. It’s also a way of life recognized and accepted by their peers. To create that new reality, they sometimes process serious things happening in the real world and turn them into something camp, or give them some gloss, to forget about any concrete consequences. Until that fantasy eventually cracks. Playdurizm is that process for me. Now, the film reads very differently when you watch it a second time. What appeared as superficial, camp, or gratuitous in the new reality has its dramatic source in the traumatic event Demir went through and escaped from. It’s Checkov’s gun galore (the golf club, the glass of milk, the TVs…). My favorite one is also the most disturbing one. Joshua the piglet does not exist in Rebel Instinct, so Demir’s mind likely “brought” it in by processing the pig masks from his attackers.
I’m also curious about the different levels of performance, which is risky but pays off here. Some of the actors have to act in an elevated style (Chris Adamson, for example), while others (Gem and Austin Chunn, I think) seem to oscillate between something like melodrama (film-within-film) and a realist style. How was that handled? Were these different styles the goal? Austin actually has something like three styles if you include the trailer he’s in. Were you ever worried about the acting styles not meshing, or one overshadowing the other?
Steve: It was the hardest indeed for Austin, who did a great job working on his character. We knew that there was a risk of the film (and especially its performances) being judged only on a superficial level. As mentioned before, the whole concept was a bit risky. The biggest gamble was how the climax would be perceived by the audience. It was supposed to come as a shock to them of course, but they had to accept that they were lured into a B-movie homoerotica flavored storyline featuring a Nazi belt buckle pistol that was actually all about addressing a very serious topic. If the video store backroom scene would have been done in a distasteful way, we would have completely failed. If the audience did not relate with Demir and Andrew’s burgeoning romance, it would also have been all for nothing. Luckily, the actors did an excellent job giving us all this nuance. We just had a play around with it in the edit. For instance, we had to cut out some scenes for pacing issues, they were giving more clues into Demir’s memory loss and some more depth to Jeremy (Chris Adamson’s character) but the constant change in mood and tone was not helping in creating a good buildup for the last act. In the end we chose to highlight the strongest scenes where you can see Demir is having a lasting effect on Andrew’s persona, kind of reprogramming him in a way (I think the boat scene is a good example of that, where it comes at the right time to break things up, they have a beautiful heart-to-heart conversation and time seems kind of floating there).
Can you talk about the design of the main interior? What were some inspirations (I immediately thought of Sion Sono’s Antiporno)? How was the layout itself conceived? For practical reasons? Blocking reasons? Otherwise? You use it as something like a stage fairly frequently (opening and closing scenes), so I’m wondering if that played a role.
Martin: We were in long discussions to use an existing, possibly abandoned space and to try to remodel it towards Gem’s vision. The story required a certain arrangement of the flat and we just could not see a route to make it work in real life. The solution was to use a studio and build everything in there with all the freedom that offered. The only limitation was the size of the hall and so the set was built from wall to wall with a couple of meters on each side for service access. Because of this, the cast and crew were almost all the time together in this excessive neon world – there was no escape to reality.
The goal was to create a space that gears entirely towards the center space of the kitchen/living room space. I imagine this is also where most of Demir’s headspace in the story is located. The most important scenes happen here and we wanted to give this space great opportunities for entrances and blocking. It is the “grand” hall where all other rooms serve the simple purpose of supporting this stage. Andrew’s room for example had to be this celebrity’s forbidden lair at the end of the hallway. It had to be opposite of where the main action is, but close enough to be tempting to Demir. The studio layout gave Jitka Sivrova, the production designer the freedom to do all of this exactly.
Another factor that made it difficult to use a real location was Gem’s request to make this space feel glamorous like a luxury boutique shop window – so more than particular film references, Jitka drew most of the inspiration from luxury clothing brands of the likes such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton fused with a lot of neon purple and pink.
Steve: It’s funny that you mentioned Sono’s Antiporno. I only quite recently had a chance to discover the film. There certainly seems to have been similar thoughts in the overall use of one space as an inescapable mental cell for the protagonist. It’s also quite meta, and exploits the tropes of a specific genre only to reveal another side of the reality presented at first. But Antiporno breaks the fourth wall (sometimes literally). We were toying ourselves with the idea of revealing obvious clues that we are on a set, but dropped the idea when we thought it did not match Demir’s escape plan. He’s entirely remodeling the world of Rebel Instinct to fit him for an eternal life with Andrew, effectively taking Drew’s place.
There’s probably no better time than the present to write about Sergei Loznitsa’s brutal, funny, dark, prescient film Donbass. I so loved his A Gentle Creature. Donbass is similarly uncompromising and great. It takes on vignette form, which Loznitsa has said was inspired by Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty. I don’t think it’s just the vignettes that owe a debt to Buñuel. Loznitsa veers into surrealist territory here with several of his episodes. He’s not afraid to be blunt, and also happy to dance around moralizing. Luis would be proud.
It’s the movement from vignette to vignette that I want to talk about. Donbass is about the region – a disputed area in eastern Ukraine, and the conflict there between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces. There are so many subtle moments that I nearly missed in here: a beat where soldiers, when interviewed by a foreign journalist, are clearly not from the region (read: they were brought in by an outside power); a savage beating, the video of which is played on a phone at, of all places, a wedding (Loznitsa doesn’t really believe in inserts, so you have to understand what the video is of from the wide).
Loznitsa really varies how he moves from section to section. Here, a shakedown outside of a bus leads to some off-screen dialogue. The character looks off frame left-
-and we cut to the reaction…which in turn will lead us into a section about these two reporters.
At the end of their (the reporters) section we find ourselves in the midst of an intense, farcical interview. Explosions in the background, and smoke and dirt cover the screen:
We go to black and enter back into the film in a bunker. We’re in first-person camera. Is it one of the journalists from before operating it? We’ll never know, but it makes sense. It’s like a theoretical or a content graphic match. The title also connects: a bomb in the previous segment gives rise to a bombshelter.
We follow our guide as he takes us through the shelter, and soon we find a new, unexpected character:
The camera lets our other guy go, and now follows this new, intriguing person. She even breaks the fourth wall as if to say, “what are you looking at?”
These varying ways keep the film fresh – an eyeline match within the scene, an event and a graphic match, complex blocking that finds a new character. These are only some of the techniques in here. The variety also keeps things loose and on-genre. There’s a comedic edge and a challenge to all of this: how are we going to get to the next one?
I like how Loznitsa finds ways to alternate between forms via these transitions (this is narrative fiction, but he’s got a documentary background and this certainly draws from it). Sometimes the demarcation isn’t immediately clear and we’re playing catchup. Other times, as in the explosion, it’s a line in the sand. That’s also to his advantage: he can stop the action, give us time to breathe, and then dive back in, and/or he can keep us going, wildly roaming around a cast of bizarre characters, not stopping to think.
Amalia Ulman’s El Planeta is at once deadpan-funny (that opening conversation with Ulman and Nacho Vigalondo!) and rather heartbreaking.
Ulman plays Leonor. She lives with her mother María (Ulman’s real-life mother, Ale Ulman). They’re struggling for money amidst Spain’s financial crisis. Together they navigate a shared history of tragedy, while trying to keep up a semblance of luxury.
Ulman seems to love two techniques: holding on a location or a door after a character has already exited, waiting for them to return; and reflections. There’s one of the latter that’s so good and disorienting – we read a sign backwards in the glass and then the two women come into shot.
El Planeta seems to owe a small debt to The Bling Ring, but it finds ways to consistently surprise and delight. I loved the moment where Leonor leaves the apartment and returns after a beat to drop her coat…and then her mother does the exact same thing.
The best sequence in the film is between Leonor and Amadeus (Zhou Chen). They have a confident and awkward meet-cute, and then a jump-cut date. Sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes they’re laughing, sometimes they don’t seem to know what to say. It plays really beautifully and realistically. The aftermath – the next morning – is spot-on, perfectly played and blocked (through glass, Leonor’s falling face in the foreground). It’s heartbreaking and Amadeus is so casual about it all. Great decisions there.
I thought about space a lot while watching El Planeta. I’m often so concerned about it, and maybe Ulman is too, but the way she shows mother and daughter’s flat is so simple, so (seemingly) unconcerned with what is where and how the rooms are connected. It’s small, plain, and they once owned it. That’s what you need.
I really liked Bertrand Bonello’s Zombi Child. It rings of Jacques Tourneur’s famous I Walked With a Zombie, but updates its look at colonialism. Teenage Fanny (Louise Labeque) meets Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), a Haitian girl who has relocated to France following the earthquake. Together they build a friendship and court a form of family voodoo.
The film includes some long classroom lecture scenes (of a specifically Eurocentric perspective) and has a great final act. It seems to me that the act three – which is so beautifully edited – would be act one in most other films!
Zombi Child has one of the great endings, with such a joyful reaction shot:
It’s a moment that brims with passion and the impossible. The film is worth it for that beat.
There’s a great portrayal of teenage girls in here (two Sofia Coppola references in one post; these beats made me think of Lick The Star):
And some intense dream/ritualistic sequences, which include a charismatic demon, Baron Samedi (Néhémy Pierre-Dahomey). This one is a crosscut between the ritual and some “nowhere space”. The effects are great, as is the rhythm:
Some of the wides in the flashbacks are a great example of really dark nighttime photography that works. They’re also just beautifully composed:
This is a coming-of-age film, so it also bristles with sexuality:
I’ve meant to watch Mike Hodge’s Black Rainbow for years. I always think of Get Carter or Croupier when I think of Hodge, but he had a nice run with other genres too. Black Rainbow is really excellent. There’s an unnecessary coda – maybe even an unnecessary frame story as a whole – but it’s one of the best things I’ve seen Rosanna Arquette do. She plays Martha Travis. She and her father, Walter (Jason Robards) travel around the US as a medium act. He does the intro and set-up, she performs. The only thing is: she thinks she’s really supernaturally skilled, he doesn’t.
When Mona makes some correct, dire predictions, local reporter Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce) gets on the trail.
There’s a lot of mood in Black Rainbow. Hodge and DP Gerry Fisher use mirrors rather well-
Here’s a scene that I really liked. Gary rushes to the train station to intercept Walt and Martha. The camera pushes up the inclined ramp-
-before Gary enters, bringing us to the train and landing him in something like a gunslinger frame:
He looks right, and Hodge and Fisher use his look, alongside the movement of the train, to motivate a pan to find these two intimidating looking guys standing, watching him:
Classic filmmaking here. Go wider to punch out and establish proximity. Then cut it to raise tension and get tighter on the eyelines:
Gary walks off and the two guys follow (side note: how important is screen direction! If those guys exit frame right, rather than frame left, they’re going away from Gary, not towards him). We cut inside the train with Walt passed out in the foreground, and then back out, to Gary’s approximate POV as Martha looks out at him:
I like a lot of elements about this scene. The way in is nice and dynamic. It gives a real western vibe to the scene (one that is played up by that second wide and some of the framing). There’s a strongly motivated camera bringing us from character to character. It keeps this thing clicking along even though it’s only people standing waiting for a train. The decision to cut inside is a big one. This scene can easily be accomplished without it. I like the change. It’s that: a change. There’s a new wind, a new feeling. The change in perspective hits that. There’s a safety in looking from inside-out, an elevated perspective.
Some likely favorites for 2022 here. Blerta Basholli’s Hive is affecting realism. Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) searches for her husband, missing since the Kosovo conflict. She concurrently fights for her rights as a woman, starts her own business, and cares for her family.
The many strengths of Hive include a strong central performance, but also good turns from kids. Fahrije’s children are great in here. A scene where her son, probably no older than 9, is embarrassed to have her just outside the shower, is sweet and real.
Hive moves swiftly and I really appreciate how Basholli is able to pack so many things into some 85 minutes without it feeling overstuffed. Maybe that’s because the central conflicts are neat and concise and because Basholli, who also wrote the script, doesn’t waste much time on exposition. We meet a group of women and dive into their problems. Fahrije is – to the outrage of the men in the community – behind the wheel of a car before you know it.
Here’s a scene that is typical of the really strong style. We start on Fahrije in CU and cut to various other women at the meeting, over her shoulder:
Fahrije stands and walks to the window. The camera is set up for her to land in another profile CU:
The other people in the room voice concerns, and a friend approaches. We pull focus into an OTS, then trail Fahrije and watch her through the glass as she exits:
This is emblematic of Basholli’s approach. Start and end with Fahrije. Handheld camera. We’re wide enough in here to capture the space, the other people, but this is all about Fahrije – there’s no OTS back on her; her singles are clean. I like that she’s in profile or semi-profile in this scene. Sure, there are some head-on singles of her, but she’s so on the edge in the film. The composition suits that. In the first half of this scene she’s a linchpin around which everything revolves. When she gets up and walks away it’s both narrative and visual symbol that that control may be slipping away – it follows that when the “center shifts,” as is the case here, new issues come to light.
I like Hive’s ending a lot. Without spoiling it – it surprised me in both how and when it ended.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet
Ana Katz made the really excellent Florianopolis Dream. Try to predict what will happen in this new one. The title is the inciting incident (and more, in hindsight), but then the film spirals and comes back around on itself. It’s so good. The movie reminds me a bit of A Ghost Story in how it takes a seemingly silly concept and turns it into something much larger, and also in how free it is with time.
That latter part is key to The Dog. Time jumps and shifts. Does Daniel (Daniel Katz) have a beard or not? Where does he work, if he does? These are some of the clues. There are others, but I won’t include them here because they would ruin the wonderfully plotted second half.
There’s an animation sequence that fills in some blanks (thinking back to how the beat just before it is shot – off-screen, one sort-of-POV, distance shouting…it’s so vague and allusive); hilarious and current production design choices; and an elliptical editing style that often leaps past what would be traditional tension, tossing us into new situations entirely, and leaving us to sort out the narrative and emotional connection.
Catch The Fair One
I loved Josef Kubota Wladyka’s Manos Sucias. Catch The Fair One has its moments, particularly in the first act. There’s a great sequence of “practice” as Kaylee (Kali Reis) prepares for something more dangerous than her boxing career. Catch The Fair One is very Paul Schrader. Something like Hardcore to Taxi Driver.
The best things about the film are scenes with Shelly Vincent and Michael Drayer. They’re scene stealers. Gruff, intense, yet caring for the former, uncomfortably relaxed for the latter. They’re immensely watchable in a film with a strong lead and with Daniel Henshall, who’s always good.
The sequence with Drayer’s Danny – covering two hotel rooms – is so strong. It ends on a really unnerving note, beautifully lensed. It’s a good example of perfect camera placement and depth of field.
Erik Løchen’s Jakten (The Chasers) is a surprise. A Norwegian film, playful in all new-wave-ways, breaking the fourth wall, fluttering about in time. It feels progressive in those ways.
Bente Børsum plays Guri. She’s married to Bjørn (Rolf Søder), but Bjørn’s longtime friend Knut (Tor Stokke) has eyes for her. Things come to a head on a hunting trip.
There’s a good bit of casting in here – Stokke is clearly more attractive than Søder. That amps the tension. But this film announces itself right from the beginning – an off-screen narrator, characters speaking to camera, characters aware of that narrator. For all the stormy melodrama of the movie (something that Løchen is quite aware of – he mocks melodramatic convention at the end) it winks at us quite a bit.
There’s something rather Jules and Jim and about the film-
Though of course Jakten precedes that film. There’s a graphic match in the film that brings us from a pivotal dinner scene into critical backstory. We close the scene in the first image below, a wide shot from another room. Flowers are in the foreground, presumably brought by the visiting Knut. We tilt down and find them full frame. Cut to – flowers in the foreground, phone in the background. We tilt up, finding Guri in the mirror:
I’ve been thinking a lot about graphic matches lately anyway, so this is appropriate. The obvious (and good) reason for this cut – it’s a clever way to show the passage of time. Those flowers have wilted. This phone call isn’t the next day. Great. That works.
There’s also something nicely rhythmic about the camera’s movement. We move from the group to the flowers, and then from the flowers to a person. It’s something like a U shape. It feels holistic that way. Like a head nodding in affirmation.
I also like it for figurative reasons. Whose love is wilting? Whose love has blossomed?
I think there are purely aesthetic reasons that this cut works as well: the first group of flowers is against a black background. It’s rather stagey and dramatic. As is the dinner. The second is against a plain white wall. There’s a contrast in shades, for one, but in the second we’ve passed time and perhaps the wine from the night has worn off and things seem more ordinary. It’s also just visually pleasing to see this connection – it’s a cue for the audience to put these scenes together aside from their being contiguous.
Here’s the climactic scene of the film. It’s quite beautifully conceived and executed (no pun intended). The three are out on the hunt after a rather fitful night. Starting a bit into their walk – we get a shot – a collective POV – of the dogs, stopped. Cut to Guri. She looks to her left, frame right. We get a version of her POV of Knut (a version of because it’s not exactly on axis with her eyeline).
Cut frontally back to her. She turns the other way, and we pan, revealing Bjørn. Back to Guri again, in the same shot as the first looser CU of her. Then to a dynamic insert, where she releases the safety of her gun:
Why dynamic? Well, it implies a lot. We don’t need to see her do that if she’s about to shoot a grouse. But if it’s something else… Also, Løchen uses his inserts sparingly, so when we see one, it’s worth noting.
A shot of the bird in the foreground. The tense moment. It flies off, frame left. The hunters in the background aim after it, all in a row. Løchen cuts to a new angle. Guns (plural) fire. Bjørn, the furthest up hill, goes down.
It’s a great moment. Going wide to show space and direction. Giving it extra time by the cut.
To Knut’s medium shot, Bjørn’s medium on the ground. Guri’s pained – and gorgeously played – reaction:
I like that Løchen goes to mediums there. It’s still tense, but body language is important. The CU’s are for earlier when we still don’t know what will happen.
Knut rushes to Bjørn. He looks frame right in a CU. Space is a little confusing here. The next shot is to Guri. We assume from the cut that Knut is off frame left (given the connection via eyeline), so it’s breathtaking when he emerges from behind her:
That little bit of intentional confusion of space mirrors her mindset, but it also throws the whole thing, the whole event, into question, which is part of Løchen’s point. It’s also just pure compositional technique. Guri’s body hiding the men is metaphorical. When Knut arises from behind her it’s like a brief resurrection.
Why does she shoot Bjørn (if in fact she does)? Is it because he called her a whore? Is it because he makes the absurd assumption that she’d commit suicide rather than live between these two men? Or, my preference – is it just the way the bird in that early frame flies? In other words, is it chance? I think that’s what that shot means. Here it is again:
This is the decisive moment. Guri, center frame – she’s often shot that way in the film, will go as the bird goes. If this bird flies frame right instead of left, the subsequent wides will be differently aligned, Guri’s gun will be pointed at the back of Knut’s head, and she’ll shoot Knut. It’s chance. It’s, to quote Guri, “the molecules of life.” This is a great composition to emphasize the idea without ever explicitly stating it.
The Big Sleep
As anyone should be, I’m a fan of Hawks’ original version of The Big Sleep. Michael Winner’s 1978 film is an odd-duck. It’s got a quote that seems to pre-date Terminator 2: “Better come with me if you want to keep living.” Though the film stars the great Robert Mitchum, it’s really Colin Blakely, playing Harry Jones, and Edward Fox, as Joe Brody – both sly characters – that stand out.
You can’t watch this opening and a) not compare it to that original meeting, or b) not stop paying attention to the movie and say, “hey, it’s Jimmy Stewart!”
The pitfalls of remaking a classic: it’s really, really disappointing when Lauren Bacall never shows up.
That said, The Big Sleep is fun and entertaining, and Mitchum is as hangdog as ever as Philip Marlowe. I like a lot of Winner’s bold camera. Here’s a short passage of time beat (on theme with this post):
Marlowe is in his car. Cut to an insert of his watch, which dissolves by a few hours. Cut back to Marlowe and now he’s outside of his car, looking to his wrist. Like the flowers in Jakten it’s a fun way to pass time. Unlike that graphic match, this one is about waiting, not time twirling away. The waiting is emphasized by shooting things similarly: frames 1 and 4 above have related properties – both are loose close-ups, both have Mitchem looking down, they appear to be shot on the same focal length. Read: not much has changed in those hours. Still waiting…