Kiyoshi Kurosawa made one of my favorite all-time films in Cure. His Seance is a second adaptation of the novel by Mark McShane. Bryan Forbes’ original – Seance on a Wet Afternoon – is another favorite movie.
Seance is shot 1:37 (probably because it was made-for-TV). Like Cure it’s eerie, focuses heavily on relationships, and takes the “descent into madness” narrative for a bit of a loop. Seance isn’t a horror film, but it’s damn creepy:
I’ll mention this again for the Truffaut film – Kurosawa loves the non-showy long take. It’s just good, solid, throwback blocking. Here’s an example of it in the film. This one’s simple, actually. Just a long tracking shot in a restaurant that moves from left to right and eventually finds one of the two protagonists, Junko (Jun Fubuki), in the background and down a corridor:
This is smooth and nicely staged in that it really physically separates her and intensifies her claustrophobia via that last frame. But it’s sequences like this next one that are much more intricate.
Sato (Koji Yakusho) sits in the foreground as Junko walks into the background. The camera moves with her and around front of him to frame Sato even closer to the lens as she sits. The camera soon tracks right to left off of him, finding only Junko:
He comes back and sits into frame in a 2-shot. She stands and comes closer to camera, forming a new 2-shot. She leaves and now the camera frames only Sato:
He walks left to right and the camera tracks with him, slightly trailing him, and then catching up to frame the final medium close 2-shot:
Like the blocking I love, this is fluid and natural. There’s a lot of movement in a small space, which Kurosawa does so well. It opens up the tight location, but also makes these two avoid one-another and chase each other, until they literally must be next to each other at the end. The blocking mirrors the narrative here (where at other scenes they’re closer together). I also like how much people just straight up leave the frame. I think a lot of long takes too many pains to keep everyone in shot – or one main character. Kurosawa just switches who to pinpoint. The stills might look like a broken marriage thanks to this. It’s not far off.
There’s a 180 line break early in the film:
It feels right. Junko is a medium and she’s communing with the dead. The broken line is slightly off and adds a nice layer of oddness to the scene.
I can’t believe I haven’t seen this Truffaut film before. It is great. Jean-Pierre Leaud is an amazing comic actor. Who’s his modern equivalent? I don’t know that there is one. He makes it seem effortless where in others it’d be too cute and trying too hard. Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films are definitely “before it was cool” movies.
And speaking of, Truffaut is also one of the few who used the long take before it was cool. His are modest, but often complex, and really beautiful. Here Doinel (Leaud) sits at lunch with his employer and his employer’s wife, Fabienne (the great Delphine Seyrig). Mr. Fabienne (Michael Lonsdale) leaves and Fabienne stands. The camera pans with her and also tracks over to a sitting area where Antoine eventually joins her:
This is notable for several of the same reasons mentioned above for Seance, but also for a fairly different reason: this one doesn’t seem to have much metaphorical value. It’s just Truffaut’s style. And when the camera lands in that final 2-shot with Fabienne in the background it just holds for a bit and lets the performances work.
The sequence that follows is the opposite and shows the director’s virtuosity. It also feels so New Wave. A series of quick cuts as Antoine’s flirtation becomes apparent:
The sequence: 1) MCU on Antoine; 2) MCU on Fabienne; 3) Insert coffee cup; 4) CU Fabienne; 5) Insert coffee spilling and zoom out to Antoine running away.
It’s cut so rapidly. The dramatic score by Antoine Duhamel is blaring. Time kind of freezes. The coffee cup seems so important. And that fourth shot – the CU on Fabienne – is just beautiful. It’s just a hair tighter than shot #2, but enough so that the punch-in resonates, and her stillness is haunting and pretty. It’s also a perfect change of pace from the long take just prior – a great example of how pacing can really upheave a scene.
Here’s another long take from later in the film.
Antoine tries to quit his job at a detective agency. The frames start somewhat simple. They’re listed here as shots, but this is one continuous take: 1) WS; 2) pan with Antoine; 3) hold on the WS as he speaks to his boss; 4) find a random character to pan back into the same room as image #1; 5) which leads to this medium 2-shot; 6) Antoine walks back out towards us, alone.
Like the other Stolen Kisses long take this one has some simplicity to it. But it really speeds up around still image #4. Truffaut uses the space expertly (his camera is always perfectly placed) to allow for movement and angles through doors. It feels like a bit of a whirlwind in a way – like Antoine doesn’t know what hit him at the end (which is probably true).