Posts Tagged ‘visual communication’

Blue is the Warmest Color

April 13, 2014

blue night club

Blue is the warmest color is one of the most controversial films in recent memory. 

The director came under attack for not representing lesbian sex accurately; as well as putting the cast and crew through hell – the shoot lasted for 5 1/2 months. Even the author of the graphic novel upon which the film is based claimed the sex scenes to be the product of a male heterosexual gaze, projecting his own sexual fantasies onto the material.

FRANCE-FILM-FESTIVAL-CANNES

Personally I think the reactions are more likely to stem from the fact that we’re not used to seeing explicit sex scenes continue for so long. (One sex scene lasts eight minutes.) Meanwhile, the criticism of the actual sexual acts not being accurate has – predictably enough – been put to rest by other lesbian commentators.

As Kechine dissects the human condition and the intensity of falling in love for the first time it’s only natural he explores emotions as well as sexuality. Early on in the film, Adele has sex with her boyfriend, likely for the first time. There is a marked difference between the look in her eyes in this scene compared to the later scene with Emma. This is not exploitation; Kechiche is onto something meaningful.

Another gut-wrenchingly convincing scene is the breakup. It’s almost physically painful to watch. Apparently Kechiche kept the cameras rolling for hours without interrupting, and it shows. The fear and desperation in Adeles eyes is a real as anything yo’ll ever seen on the celluloid.

After the breakup-scene we follow Adele as she continues her daily routines, particularly in her job as a teacher. Although she goes through the motions and seemingly fulfills her duties as normal, interacting with the innocent children, we can see that she is empty, broken. Even as she walks down the street, little subtleties in her body language reveal her endless guilt and sadness. Kechiche communicates this contrast between what’s going on on the inside and outside expertly. One way he does this beautfully is by returning to a place of significance from earlier in the film; the park where Adele and Emma share their first kiss. Screenshots from the earlier scene in the park:

blue tree before
The scene is beautifully shot straight towards the sun coming through the leaves.

blue kiss under tree

Later, Adele has returned to the same park, the same bench, and underneath the same tree. The contrast between the beauty of the image and the torment of Adeles emotional state serves to further underline the emotions we feel as spectators:
blue tree after fact

Kechine then cuts to a close up of a pair of fingers nervously tapping against a window-sill. It’s a beautiful moment that in an instant speaks volumes about what Adele is going through.

Blue is the Warmest Color
has become another chapter in the ever-ongoing debate about how far you can push the people around you in the attempt to achieve an artistic vision. And while the shoot may have been difficult, the work lives on. And in the case of Blue is the Warmest Color, it is a testament to a director and two actors working together and making great sacrifices, in order to create a work of true art that will last forever.

Film of the Year 2012: Holy Motors

December 30, 2012

holymotors21Holy-Motors-photo-13

Often described as “weirdest movie of 2012”, Leo Carax’ surrealist film has left many viewers perplexed. It may not be perfect, but it was the most wonderful complex and meaningful film I saw in 2012.
So what does it all mean?

Leo Carax’ Holy Motors asks a number of existential questions.

What is this thing we call life?

Is there such a thing as community?

The film starts with the protagonist leaving his family for work in the morning, and by the time he returns he enters a completely different home, his original community seemingly forgotten.

What is reality?
What is the nature of our position in relation to the world around us?
What are we? Are we what people see when they see us, or is it something else?

Holy Motors is a meditation on all of these epistemological questions.

One of the main themes is performance in life and cinema. The main character is constantly changing identity in the movie. Is there a substance behind the layers upon layers of the roles we play?
At one point the lead character bumps into an old friend, played by Kylie Minogue. She asks: “Is it you?”
“I think so,” he answers.

Shortly thereafter Minogue breaks into a euphoric dance-number: “Who were we, when we were who we were, back then? Who would we have become, if he had done differently back then?”, she sings.
After they say their goodbyes, as soon as he leaves, she pulls off her blond wig and costume, and throws herself off a balcony, killing herself.

It’s about Art and about Hollywod.
At one point a character says: “Beauty in the eye of the beholder. What if there is no longer a beholder?”
To what extent does an artwork have to find an audience in order to be considered worthwhile? What if there are only a few spectators – what if there are none?

It’s a beautiful and thematically complex movie – the most though-provoking film I saw this year.

Great Action: Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter & The Raid: Redemption

October 1, 2012

Lately, I’ve seen two great action films. Action is a very interesting genre for those who care about pure cinema. It’s all about communicating space and time in a coherent manner – and let it be said right away – 99.9% of all action movies fail quite miserably.

The first movie is Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Slayer and The Raid: Redemption. In “Lincoln” Bekmambetov slows the the action down at cruical moments to build up suspense. It’s a rare display of cinematic skill. Interestingly, the film uses vampires as a metaphor for the wealthy feasting on the poor – the rich can only stay rich by making sure the poor stay poor. Bekmambetov’s vampires are wealthy slave-owners. At one point he shows how the vampires grow and spread from the southern states, in what looks like a computer-generated political map from a CNN election coverage broadcast.

 

 

The second movie is the The Raid: Redemption. The Indonesian film is beautifully crafted from start to finish, it’s short, fast, and the action never lets up. It’s a fairly brutal film, but the outstanstanding choreography, cinematography, editing and spacial coherencee makes up for it. The shoot-outs and fight scenes are extremely intense, with fitting variations in tempo and rythm.

Bad Lieutenant: Pain as Metaphor

July 30, 2010

Regardles of original director Abel Ferrara’s apparent wish to see the people behind this picture die and burn in hell, I thought this was Werner Herzog and Nic Cage’s best effort in a while. Cage is able to express a number of different emotions and personas as convincingly as I’ve seen this year. (Jeff Bridges also did it empathically in Crazy Heart, but Cage’s performance seems more important.) With his hunched back, walking with stiff, short steps he embodies a whole city’s (if not to say country’s) feeling of despair and disillusion.

Cage’s character, Terrence McDonagh, is a highly flawed, corrupt cop who at one point decides to jump into a flooding prison cell from one story up to save a drowning prisoner. The result is irrepearable back damage and a permanent condition of severe back pain. These chronic back pains spiral McDonagh further and further down into a world of narcotics and prescription drugs.

Setting the plot in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a masterstroke by Herzog. If there is ever a place to illustrate the brimming injustice of the ever-growing inequality in the U.S. (and the world), this is it. (Consider the plans to privatize and gentrify the area in the wake of the catastrophè.)

I find it hard not to see Cage’s tortured cop as a metaphor. A metaphor for how poverty and downward social mobility as the result of disease, injury and disaster strikes coincidentally, dragging shame and humiliation along in its footsteps.

Cage’s good deed does not go unpunished. His injury perfectly illustrates how New Orleans’ poor and predominately black population was brought to its knees. The same way desperate people all over the world see the windows, doors, and borders of opportunity close all around them by a brutal, overwhelming, and merciless force, as poverty sweeps up its random victims.

“If He is not the word of God, then God never spoke” – THE ROAD

July 19, 2010

The movie uses a post-apocalyptic world as an analogy to discuss contemporary issues. Such as the struggle to find meaning in a capitalist world. In this sense I thought it was reminiscent of Kafka’s The Trial. Struggling to find a reason to go on, Viggo Mortensen looks at his sleeping son, and says “If he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.” A lot of credit goes to author Cormac McCarthy’s poetic words. Even for an agnostic like me, the love I feel for my son is so strong that it feels like it has God-like dimensions.

Brilliantly, The Road sheds light on the struggle of the poor, starving and desperate populations of the present day world. It removes the blindfolds from the prosperous, showing a harsh truth. Steven Spielberg also the same in his underrated allegory War of the Worlds.

However, director John Hillcoat chooses to use tremendously low contrasts in his imagery. At times it’s hard to make out anything at all in the the muddy grey and brown colors. The flashbacks to present time, on the other hand, have over-saturated  colors, creating a dramatic distiction between now and then. A different approach emphasizing the parallels between the two worlds would have been much more interesting in a cinematic sense.

Because that parallel is the real story here.

Nowhere Boy -the young John Lennon

July 19, 2010

Just saw this on dvd. It is a surprisingly well shot film. It is rare these days that a movie tries to take advantage of cinemas’ intrinsic visual capabilities, but instead relying on dialogue, plot, narrative and character to convey meaning. To a considerable extent, this is also true for Nowhere Boy -which is nonetheless an interesting look at some Freudian trauma of John Lennon’s dramatic childhood and youth.

The camera is always a player in Nowhere Boy.  Nowhere Boy at times uses editing and cinematography to achieve beautiful results. Let me give you one example of how director Sam Taylor-Wood uses cinemas own vocabulary to convey meaning.:

At one point Lennon is given a guitar, and rehearses in his living room. We see him pull out the guitar, sit down, and start playing. He is alone in the room. After a few seconds we realize that the images have been sped up. The other members of the family fly in and out of the living room at exaggerated speeds while John sits still and plays his new instrument. The idea is that he has finally found his calling.; for him time is standing still.  It is understood that John’s life will never be the same again after this moment, brilliantly reinforced by pure visual storytelling.

KICK-ASS

April 24, 2010

Apart from the nihilism that have become all-too common in action films – particularly since Tarantino popularized the justifiable tooth-for-tooth  revenge fantasy in the mid nineties – Kick-Ass is a very likable movie. In that sense it is reminiscent of 1994’s Falling Down, which was a sensationally watchable and engrossing vigilante-drama with a poignant turn by Michael Douglas in top form.   

The editing in Kick-Ass is rapid and competent. It is a rare sight to see action-sequences edited together this well, without cheating. Most action-directors employ a blisteringly-paced and eventually confusing form of jump cutting that leaves the audience to make out the spacial-temporal logic of the scene by themselves. Such directors do not show how the different elements of the scene relate to each other. (Take for instance films like Quantum of Solace,  District 9 or Avatar. )

Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaugh is, however, able to do this to a considerable extent. The action sequences in Kick-Ass are exciting, suspenseful and truely involve the viewer. 

Add to that an unusually vibrant color scheme and a truly charming lead actor in Aaron Johnson and you have the year’s second best action movie to date, only behind the fascinating real politics of The Green Zone.

Che Part 2 – communicating space

May 5, 2009

2eas9wi

Cinema is about communicating space.  Film can communicate three dimentional space in a way none of the other art forms can.

This is done primarily with the techniques of editing and camera movement. It is an absolutely essential aspect of the art form.

Steven Soderbergh does a pretty good job of this in the battle scenes in ‘Che’. He doesn’t really engage with the language of cinema to any extensive degree in the two films. But at one point we see the guerrilla soldiers walking down a river shot from an overhead angle -it is a rare and refreshing visual touch that adds some texture to the film.

But still – space is represented quite consistently in the film’s battle scenes, especially the final scene where the Bolivian soldiers close in on  Che and his men hiding in a a hillside behind some rocks. As the the soldiers (who are far superior in numbers) approach, the claustrophobia mounts. The way this is done is through use of foreground and background in the frame, as well as consistency in the communication of the spacial relations in the editing. That means that there is a relationship between the shots, that they relate to each other and work together to communicate space, and don’t contradict each other visually. 

I will write more  tomorrow.


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