Chemical Amnesia and Cinematic Awareness in “Pays Barbare”

Pays1

Image from "Pays Barbare" directed by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi.

At the forefront of the documentary movement since 1986, Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi have relentlessly aimed in their work to make archival footages speak. Using original footage as a palimpsest, they resculpt it by decelerating the film’s speed, rephotographing it, reframing a shot, or adding a soundtrack.

Explicitly political, their films consider the upheavals of colonialism and war and, ultimately, question our memory. From their first documentary, Dal polo all’equator, which drew upon footage from around the globe to celebrate the virtues and achievements of European colonialism, to their trilogy on World War I—Prigioneri della Guerra (1995), Su tutte le vette è pace (1998), and Oh! Uomo (2004)—the filmmakers have established themselves as archeologists of argentic film.

Faithful to their themes of predilection, Gianikian and Lucchi deconstruct colonial exoticism and try to build an anthropological study of fascism in their new film Pays Barbare (Paese Barbaro), which premiered at the 66th Locarno Film Festival. Here, they set their lens on the exactions of Mussolini’s regime in East Africa, particularly in Libya and Ethiopia.

The fascinating claim of their work is how remodeling deteriorating material in a state of "chemical amnesia" can revive our collective memory and redefine our representation of colonialism.

The introductory scene translates this idea. We are brought back to April 28, 1945, the day of Il Duce’s death. The crowd agglutinates around the corpses of pro-Mussolini partisans. As the film’s speed is reduced, anonymous faces begin to stand out. Their traits, expressions, and eyes mirror the vivid reality they are experiencing. A multitude of feelings emerge from their intense stare: deliverance, freedom, elation, hopefulness… even disbelief. The alteration of the images doesn’t interfere with the actual content, but acknowledges the passing of time and the erstwhile presence of the people on screen.

Individuals emerge from the sea of people and we start to see movements: hands waving at the camera or a leg passing over the corpses. By breaking down the motions, the film encapsulates the most minute details and engraves them in the annals of history.

Another piece of striking footage, supposedly shot in 1936, embodies the reality of Mussolini’s presence in Africa. Acting as a terrifying metaphor for colonialism, the sequence shows an Italian soldier vigorously scrubbing the bare nape of a young Ethiopian woman who sits patiently, at the soldier’s mercy. The act is far from trifling. Two minutes of that sequence suffice to sum up the ethnic genocide perpetrated by the regime.

Since these films were originally intended for private home viewing, the multiple scratches "are indications of who owned the films, those sequences to which they returned over and over," according to Gianikian and Lucchi. The "chemical amnesia" that might otherwise be seen as contamination of their material gains significance as a palpable commentary on the viewers of that time.

Tichy2

Photography by Miroslav Tichý.

At the crossroad of visual art and film, the work of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi share an interesting similarity with the photographs of Czech artist Miroslav Tichý, known for his worn out portraits, often out of focus, blemished by dust in the camera, or overexposed. Even though their subjects differ, both interact with the chemical activity of their materials and how they can be reframed and recomposed.

While Gianikian and Lucchi dig into the scraped surface of their footage, Tichý recreates—thanks to his homemade cameras built with at-hand materials (cardboard tubes, cans)—the passing of time. The blurry fog that masks their materials is rendered meaningful and adds to the hypnotic and sensory pleasures one feels when looking at their films and photographs.

Beyond its form, Gianikian and Lucchi capture the moving image’s core: its fluid essence. Miroslav Tichý’s photographs also show an undeniable attention to his subjects’ movements—how they seem to be on the verge of moving out of the frame. By distorting their respective media, these three artists aim to touch the very essence of the image, highlighting its fundamental bond to movement and creating a cinematic awareness that wasn’t there before.

The Lunchbox

The-Lunchbox-2013Loin des paillettes et de l’apparat bollywoodien, The Lunchbox est un petit bijou de délicatesse et de poésie.

Au cœur de Bombay, les dabbawallahs, livrent sans relâche des plats préparés par les épouses pour les apporter aux maris sur leurs lieux de travail.

Le film commence lorsque ce service pourtant jugé infaillible se trompe de destinataire et conduit Ila, une jeune femme délaissée par son mari et Sagaan un homme veuf au seuil de la retraite, à entretenir une correspondance via mets interposés. Les aliments transportent alors leur littérature amoureuse, et envoûtent  leurs sens. Au fil des dégustations, l’ardeur de Sagaan se réveille et la sensualité d’Ila s’épanouie.

Pendant deux heures, ces deux âmes solitaires s’écrivent, se parlent sans se voir. Elles se confient, dévoilent leurs peurs, leurs désirs les plus secrets, leurs regrets. Et pourtant leurs confidences ne tiennent qu’à un seul fil, celui des livreurs qui prennent des allures de surhommes tant la navigation de la ville semble périlleuse.

A travers cet échange voilé, Ritesh Batra parle avec justesse et subtilité de la société indienne et de son rapport au couple qui porte souvent le poids de la religion et des traditions.

C’est sans doute parce que ce film parle si bien de ces non-dits, qu’il a déclenché un véritable raz-de-marée en Inde, battant les records des films indépendants au box office.

Avec Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra nous offre un film au goût singulier et qui ouvre la voie à un autre cinéma indien.

"M" (1931) by Fritz Lang

Summary: Fritz Lang’s classic early crime melodrama is set in 1931 Berlin. The police are anxious to capture an elusive child murderer (Peter Lorre), and they begin rounding up every criminal in town. The underworld leaders decide to take the heat off their activities by catching the child killer themselves. Once the killer is fingered, he is marked with the letter "M" chalked on his back. He is tracked down and captured by the combined forces of the Berlin criminal community.


Hublots’ view
: A vibrant thriller where the Hunter becomes the Hunted. A brilliant tour de force rendered possible thanks to the virtuosity of the mise en scène.

         As I re-watched M, I was struck by the values’ reversal exerted throughout the movie. Because of this child murderer, the mafia turns into the justice and ends up in the final scene embodying the judges; criminals become the law. The Mafiosi have of course no legitimacy to undertake a trial. If the mafia can act the police and law’s parts, we can argue on the real legitimacy of Justice itself. Since everyone, especially assorted criminals, can fit in the shoes of a justice representative, we face a real questioning of our own justice system. Fritz Lang is, here, criticizing his own government, which in 1931 is on its way to become outlaw.

          However, legitimate Justice barges into the improvised trial at the end. We only see a hand grasping Hans Beckert’s shoulder. The message is clear: real Justice has no face, since it must not come from a subjective entity but must remain totally impartial.

        However Justice is not the only one without a face. At first, the murderer himself is only a silhouette, a shadow projected on the reward notice. By concealing his face, Lang avoids any identification and puts us in the shoes of the citizens who look for a faceless criminal. And soon this research turns into a tracking, where the society hunts up a victim, a scapegoat. And we know what were the aftermaths of that story…

         Keeping up with the characteristics of German expressionism, Lang distorts space and through its representation on screen externalizes psychological motives. By filming multiple empty spaces Lang imposes a feeling of emptiness, and to a larger extent death. The murderer kidnaps children from the common places they usually inhabit (attic, playground, stairways, kitchen) as to say he removes life from these areas and creates a void, which is spatially the mark of his crime. Emanating from the void, a feeling of angst then seizes the spectator.

       Sound or rather its absence conveys also a sense of anxiety. Because the ditty is sung relentlessly in the introductory scene, the silence that follows is even more perceptible. Silence goes along with the idea of emptiness; it is a metaphorical assertion, an echo of death.

     As you take some distance from the film you realize once again how contemporary the subject of the film is. M could be one more faceless terrorist of the 21st century. Lang shows he is ahead of his time by questioning the concept of terrorism itself. He seems to induce that the term terrorist is a matter of point of view. Anyone can be seen as a terrorist, it just depends how you position yourself within the society spectrum. By depicting contradictory characters, who are never white nor black, we wonder to which entity the actual terrorist etiquette can be attributed. The police as well as society seem as reprehensible as the guilty. The terrorist can also lie within the one who is asking for Justice.

Ingrid R.

“Touch of Evil” (1958) by Orson Welles

Or how music serves evil

Here are a few insights to Orson Welles’ handling of music in Touch of Evil. A pretty unorthodox way of using music compared to other movies of the same period. 

Summary : An automobile is blown up as it crosses the Mexican border into the United States. Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), a high ranking Mexican narcotics official on honeymoon with his bride, Susie, is drawn into the investigation because a Mexican national has been accused of the crime. The figurative and physical presence of Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) as the 330 pound sheriff looms all over. Quinlan is a fanatic where "justice" is concerned, even if obtaining it involves planting evidence. Quinlan’s reputation for law and order enables him to bend the law without question until Vargas confronts him. From that point on, it’s a battle of wits between the two that, with an accelerating pace, rushes to a climax.

Music invites you in hell

From the beginning music appears to be a synonym of perdition, in other words we could say that sound conveys decadence. In the opening shot, the spectator is submerged into the clamor of a Mexican border town. Several sounds pile up on one another starting with a time bomb’s tick, then the rumour of the clubs’ latin jazz tunes, the radio’s yelling rock tune, the laughter of night birds, the officer’s blast of whistle, and the trumpets’ shrieking. This results in a thundering musical imbroglio that gives a surrealistic tone to the movie, as if the world we were stepping into was out of gear, unsettled. In this city, harmony no longer exists and chaos has taken over euphony. More so, this entanglement of sounds builds up the tension and prepares the spectator for the climactic moment, i.e. the bomb blast.

Music as a trap

When Susie (Janet Leigh) is staying at the Mirador hotel, the music floods into her room and prevents her from sleeping. Gradually, music turns into an insistent, an unbearable rumor, which puts the character into frenzy. The group of young people who parties loudly next door does not represent any way out for Susie. On the contrary, she is even more sealed up in her own room, since the clamor comes from everywhere, and barricades every exit. 

Music as an instrument of death

When Hank (Orson Welles) is about to murder Grandi, latin rhythms are emanating from the street. As Grandi is struggling to save his life from Hank’s deadly hands, the trumpets and the drums are more and more piercing, thus underlining the morbid deed. 

Music prevents the truth

As a matter of fact, it seems that truth can only be revealed within silence; music conceals from reality, it masks the truth. As a matter of fact, Al escorts Hank out of the cabaret, since the piano drowns out voices and the melody prevents Vargas (Charlton Heston) to tape their discussion. "I will get him out of this, so you can hear» says Al to Vargas bearing out that music is not compatible with confession. All along, criminals have hidden behind jumble of sounds in order to cover up their criminal deeds. In the final scene, free from any parasite noises, truth comes out through silence, whereas dishonesty and deception are bounded to sound.

Here is a link to the opening shot, if you want to have glimpse of Welles’ incredible rhythmic instinct. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg8MqjoFvy4

The irreplaceable Henry Mancini composed the score, of course. It is, according to me, one of the greatest film noir soundtracks. 

Ingrid Raison

A comparative analysis of Annie in "Gun crazy" and Vera in "Detour"

Or how women embody this desirable and terrifying otherness.

Annie in "Gun Crazy"

Vera in "Detour"

 
Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour and Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun crazy were both released after the World War II, in 1945 and 1950. During that period, women were recruited to take men’s jobs since places were vacant due to the mobilization. This social change lead women to be more independent, for they were making a living on their own. Financially and socially independent, women in men’s collective unconscious became a threat. As Place states in her essay Women in Film Noir: «Film noir is a male fantasy». Vera and Annie Laurie are the product of men’s mental construction, they embody this menacing archetype.

Thus, throughout our analysis, we should keep in mind that the women we are looking at are depicted through male lenses. So, we should simply ask how these women are portrayed. What are the elements that establish them as genuinely hostile? We will first analyze their similar characteristics, i.e. their aggressiveness against men. Then, we will see how their different physical appearances divide them, in other words how they are discriminated because of their features. Indeed, their looks play an essential role in the fulfillment of their respective plans. Finally, we will extend our interpretation on how their affinity to death legitimately condemns them to the eyes of men and society.

But before we start our analysis here are the plots summaries of our films:

Detour: Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour begins when hitchhiker Al Roberts  accepts a ride from affable gambler Charles Haskell Jr. When Haskell suffers a fatal heart attack, Roberts, afraid that he’ll be accused of murder, disposes of the body, takes the man’s clothes and wallet, and begins driving the car himself. He picks up beautiful but sullen Vera, who suddenly breaks the silence by asking, "What did you do with the body?" It turns out that Vera had earlier accepted a ride from Haskell and has immediately spotted Roberts as a ringer. Holding the threat of summoning the police over his head, Vera forces Roberts to continue his pose so that he can collect a legacy from Haskell’s millionaire father, who hasn’t seen his son in years. 
 
Gun Crazy: The definitive Joseph H. Lewis-directed melodrama, Gun Crazy is the "Bonnie and Clyde" story retooled for the disillusioned postwar generation. Bart Tare is a timorous, emotionally disturbed World War II veteran who has had a lifelong fixation with guns. He meets a kindred spirit in carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr, who is equally disturbed — but a lot smarter, and hence a lot more dangerous. Beyond their physical attraction to one another, both Dall and Cummins are obsessed with firearms.

I. Characterized as aggressive, they are associated with evil

The first distinguished feature is the aggressivity of Vera and Annie. When we first encounter Annie she is a professional shooter in a circus. She plays with fire, putting her own life at stake each time she has to perform. She seems fearless and determined.  No intellect is involved between her and Bart, only physical skills are demonstrated.  Challenge is what Annie proposes to Bart, at first. As he goes up on the stage, metaphorically Annie and him are already on the same pedestal.  In a way, she acts like a man when she holds a gun, and shoots. She transcends her gender, and becomes an equal opponent. Stepping outside of her socially assigned role makes her scary to a male audience.

She is always on the move, ready to fight. «Shoot why don’t you shoot?!» shouts Laurie to Bart, while they are being followed by a police car. Here, she induces Bart to follow her path, to let go his deadly impulses, to become an animal, which strives for survival. Annie defines her philosophy in these words: «No, guts’ nothing, I want action!» «Action» provides her adrenalin, which appears as essential to her metabolism. There is an unhealthy excitement  she seems to take out of danger, and illegality. On their first bank robbery, Annie is driving Bart to the bank. She sits in the driver’s place. This could seem insignificant, but it actually reveals her new empowerment. When she looks back to check if no one is tailing their car, she smiles as if she enjoyed the scurry. Her hysterical smile makes her insane to our eyes and we associate her to evil since she seems to find pleasure in her criminal deeds. So, it is through aggression that she encounters joy.

As for Vera, she is probably the scariest protagonist, because she does not demonstrate tender feelings, which at least Annie showed when embracing Bart. She  is physically and verbally aggressive. Because Vera scratched his hand, she is first introduced to us as the attacker of Charles Haskell. From that moment, we consider her as a malevolent character. The way she insults, blames, or shouts at Al confirms this idea.

The fact that we cannot situate her in a context or relate her to any previous event destabilizes the audience. We know nothing about her past. She just worms her way into Al’s life. Her omniscience of the situation confers her power and control over Al. She yields  at him saying: «Remember who is the boss around here!» She seems superhuman since she bolts from the blue and seizes the action. Her apparition is not rational, thus her presence is rendered even more eerie.

The aggressiveness of Annie and Vera positions them as manly. They appear as very self-confident, although in each case they need the help of the men in order to fulfill their plans. They are the ones who breed evil within their partners; Bart becomes a calculating person, he schemes robbery and forces himself to shoot at a police car- although he made the promise to never shoot anyone- while Al ends up becoming a real murderer.

II. The element that separates them: their attractiveness.

«The dark woman of film noir had something her innocent sister lacked; access to her own sexuality (and thus to men’s) and the power that this access unlocked.»

Annie derives power from her sexuality. As a matter of fact she succeeds to seduce Bart, and holds sex as an asset. She uses her physical appearance as a commodity. Her attractiveness works as a bond between her and Bart. She knows how to seduce a man and to profit by it. « Next time you wake up, Bart, look over me laying there beside you. I am yours and I am real.» She makes herself an object in Bart’s eyes. She gives him the illusion that he possesses her. And in this sense, she appropriates the male logic as her own. Her strength lies in the awareness of her sexuality, and in her capacity to make it a profitable tool. These characteristics establish her as a true femme fatale.

Unlike Annie, Vera is always seen as an antagonist. There is something uncanny about her as Al specifies it at the beginning. «I got the impression of beauty. Not the beauty of movie actress or the beauty you dream about when you are with your wife but a natural beauty. A beauty that is almost homely because it is so real.» To Al’s eyes she is attractive in her unattractiveness. Her eyebrows are shaped to invoke fear and mistrust. Because her look conveys a sense of meanness, she is not to be trusted nor loved.  She contradicts the beauty standards with dark hair and eyes. She is not as glamorous as her rival, Sue.  When she and Al are stuck in the apartment waiting for their next move, Vera tries to lure Al to the bedroom. She wanders around in her bathrobe for almost six minutes, during which she is trying to physically come closer to him. Three times in a row, she subtly makes sexual advances to Al but each time he pushes her back and breaks free from her. This rejection reinforces her frustration, and from then on she appears as a repressed character. She was probably rejected as well by Charles Haskell, which nurtured her hatred for the male sex.

To Al’s point of view, she is not attractive. In fact, he has somebody else in mind.  He is indifferent and ignores her flirty attitude. Maybe Place’s statement about men’s survival could be applied here:

«In Film Noir, it is clear that men need to control women’s sexuality in order not to be destroyed by it.»

Refusing to give in to Vera’s charm, Al saves his own life. Unlike her, he does not die at the end. Bart succumbed and let himself dragged into Annie’s arms. As a result both of them found death at the end. So, can we state that Al triumphed because he refused to share the temptress’ bed? What we can argue is that by denying Vera any kind of sex appeal, Al deprives Vera of her identity. Attractiveness seems to be at the core of the femme fatale nature, without it they are empty entities. Their physical features are meant to serve their machiavellian plan, if they can not be considered as attractive they are merely fatale.

III. Their affinity to death legitimates their own

We know that Vera and Annie are both involved in crimes and try to lure their male partners further into them. They do not hesitate to be at the front-rank when they have to deal with death. Both of them assume death, they flirt with it all the time, whereas their partners strive to get away from it. To the audience of the 1940‘s it must have been regarded as blasphemous. Bart works as the spokesman of the vice squad, since he is openly against this life style : «I kept fighting myself. I am not a killer. I don’t want to be a killer. I don’t like this kind of life. I have had enough!» However, his objections are vain since each time he accepts to undertake one more robbery. Annie is the one who influences Bart. She is the scapegoat. We learn that she apparently killed someone in the past, and shot an employee when she was robbing the meatpacking factory with Bart. After doing so, she does not express any regret. The fact that she acts cold bloodily results in dehumanizing her. No redemption is possible; she has to be punished for her crimes and Bart is compelled to follow her in her descent in hell, not just to satisfy the production code but the moral logic of Hollywood as well.

Vera’s lack of care for Charles Haskell’s death puts her in the shoes of the executioner. As we witness later in the movie, she is willing to profit from his death and encourages Al to become an impostor in order to get back the inheritance. Al is portrayed as a prisoner. Vera locks him up while they are staying in the apartment. She blackmails him all along, threatening Al to turn him to the police.  As she is unintentionally killed the audience is supposed to feel relieved when she dies. Unlike Annie, she seems merely motivated by evil. She is not involved in any relationship, and there is nothing in her character that the audience can identify itself with.

At the end, both of our femmes fatales die. In each case, there is an aim to legitimate their death. Because they are sinners they have to be punished, as well as their  their partners; Bart is shot and Al is picked up by the highway patrol. Nevertheless, we cannot help but find their death legitimate. They are the ones who are the source of evil. Their partners are seen as the victims, whereas they are the true instigators. The way they are depicted suggests that they have already been playing in the antechamber of death. From the start, there is something morbid about them.

Although, Annie and Vera die at the end, one of them could have fit in the American dream.  Annie could have been a perfect housewife, if she did not let herself be fascinated by crime. Bart and her make frequent references to a nice settled life. Annie gives us the impression of a good girl who turned out badly, whereas Vera is a marginal, unfit for society. Vera’s appearance and attitude are repulsive and induce no empathy towards her. As Al says about her: «she was just as rotten in the morning as she did the night before.»

Overall, these two women by being liberated from social and patriarchal standards are seen as a threat, since they defy men’s authority. Therefore, their attitudes can not be unpunished, the common order has to be reestablished. Both of them meet their end; as they were elevated to a pedestal, they fell from it. Place explicits that idea:«the myths of the sexually aggressive woman first allows sensuous expression of that idea and then destroys it. And by this limited expression, ending in defeat, that unacceptable element is controlled.» By doing so, the femme fatale remains a fantasy, since she does not get away with it nor have a happy ending. She is confined into fiction, and must not be taken as a role model.

I.R

"The Conversation" (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola

 A brief sum up:

Harry, a paranoid and personally-secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he is spying on will be murdered. 

Hublots’ view: A subtle film noir turnaround, where the spectator is trapped into a "conversation". An echo to the Cold War and Big Brother.

Surveillance:

Like in Fritz Lang’s M, one has a sense of surveillance throughout the movie, thanks to the high angle shots. The last scene confirms this idea, as the camera’s movement mimics the mechanical comings and goings of a surveillance camera. We see Harry sitting over the ruins of his apartment. Espionage defeated him. Technology has beaten him. A faceless enemy is controlling him. At this point, he is nothing more than a tracked animal.

Suspicion:

Going along with the spying theme, suspicion is at the core of the movie. Nobody is to be trusted. More so, Harry who figures as the private eye embodies this idea of mistrust. He refuses to confide himself, even to his girlfriend, whom he shuts out his life. Harry’s solitude is probably the predominant feature that establishes him as a Film Noir protagonist. He is paranoid, and tries to avoid as much as possible social interactions. It is only in the environment of his office that he can feel safe. It is the place where he can indulge in his passion; espionage. But his intrusion into other people’s life goes with a strong feeling of guilt, which he has to drag along with him. In this new case, the thought of causing death is eating him up; « I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of murder», tells Harry haunted by a dreamlike vision.

The femme fatale:

Following the film noirs’ motifs, the femme fatale appears, but not where we would expect her to. She is not fooling the detective but his employer. The tour de force of this movie lies in the turnaround. Coppola makes us think that the couple being spied on is going to end up being the victim, whereas the two lovers are the actual executioner. This reversal bewilders the main protagonist as much as the audience. So, according to Schrader’s commentaries, the plot responds to the twisted and complex narrative structure of a Film Noir.

An enveloping hopelessness:

Harry tries to flee from his own conscience, although sometimes he has no choice but to face it. No one can understand him, and revelations about his actions can be harmful to him and to his surroundings. The piano solo highlights these moments when he is confronted to himself.

"The Conversation featured an austere score for piano. On some cues, Shire, the music composer, took the taped sounds of the piano and distorted them in different ways to create alternative sonix textures to round out the score. The music is intended to capture the isolation and paranoia of protagonist Harry Caul".

The melancholic melody guides us into the meanders of Harry’s tortured mind. A feeling of sadness strikes us. We can not help but feel empathy for him. Thanks to music, at some point, we depart from film noir and engage in a personal melodrama.

The insistent and repetitive recording of the conversation closes up on Harry. It participates in increasing the sense of claustration. He is trapped in an affair that does not concern him. As he gets deeper into his investigation he looses control over his life. We are sensitive to a mood of «predetermined fate» and «an all enveloping hopelessness»[1].

The gruesome scene that takes place in room 773 works as a catalyst of the movie’s angst clime. Confined to the role of the passive witness, we share Harry’s powerlessness feeling. We hear but cannot act out. Even though, Harry is not physically involved in the crime, he is being tortured by what he hears, and finally sees. His senses are overwhelmed with horror. It is interesting to note that during the actual murder Harry is blind, since he is mistaken as to the criminal and the victim’s identities. Even when he sneaks into the room he still misunderstands what really happened. The message is clear: appearances are deceptive. Harry realizes too late that he was the pawn of a well plotted murder.

 Very few dialogues are present in the last part of the movie, since Harry has been deprived of the right to speak. He is condemned to silence. His saxophone is the only thing that is left through which he can speak out his distress.

Conclusion:

Contrary to the Film Noir’s tradition crime is not punished here. The murderers get away with it. The circumstances of the crime are not explicitly outlined. The crime scenne is deconstructed and only fragments of it are being flashed to us. Furthermore, the gruesome details are not eluded. The director does not omit to show bloody scenes. In the Forties’, the production code would have censored such gloomy display. More so, there is no voice over, but the repetitive use of analepsis that supports Harry’s obsession. Close-ups of the original conversation are repetitively shown to us, as pieces of a puzzle that need to be assembled. Finally, the film being most of the time focused on Harry, we often part from Film Noir to venture into the melodrama of an individual, into a personnal tragedy.

I.R


[1] Schrader, Paul. The Film Noir reader. «Notes on film Noir». page 58.

"All that heaven allows" (1955) de Douglas Sirk

Analyse de la première scène

Bref résumé du film : Cary Scott, une jeune et jolie veuve, habite seule dans une petite ville de Nouvelle-Angleterre. Sa solitude n’est adoucie que par les visites occasionnelles de ses grands enfants qui fréquentent des écoles lointaines, de Sara, sa seule amie, et d’un admirateur, Harvey. Cary se lie d’amitié avec Ron Kirby, le jardinier, plus qu’elle, et en tombe amoureuse, malgré les commérages du quartier et l’opposition de ses enfants…

Hublots’ view: Une première scène qui cristallise d’emblée tous les éléments du mélodrame sirkien.

Dans All that heaven allows, le spectateur plonge in medias res dans l’histoire. Il est d’emblée confronté à deux visions, à deux idéologies opposées celle de Ron (le jardinier de Cary) et celle de Sara (l’amie de Cary, incarnation de la bourgeoisie provinciale américaine) qui vont fonder le dilemme de Cary et par conséquent le mélodrame. En effet, cette dernière  n’aura de cesse tout au long du film de naviguer entre ces deux pôles.

La mise en scène traduit le statut social hiérarchiquement inégal de Ron et de Sara,  et affiche leurs différences en définissant les mondes auxquels ils appartiennent. Après un plan en plongée, la caméra se focalise sur Sara laissant Ron à l’arrière plan. Réduit à un rôle de figurant, Ron apparaît comme un citoyen de seconde zone dans la petite bourgade de Cary. Apparaissant à trois reprises à l’arrière plan, la caméra ne le filme pas directement en gros plan. Il est peu à peu apprivoisé par la caméra comme par Cary. Nous ne voyions que son profil  jusqu’au moment où il parle de ses arbres. Ainsi, le traitement cinématographique de son personnage traduit son infériorité sociale.

Non seulement issus de classes sociales distinctes (milieu populaire, milieu bourgeois) Ron et Sara véhiculent des valeurs opposées. Sara, issue de la bourgeoisie de province est obnubilée par des problématiques purement matérielles et mondaines. À la deuxième minute du film on apprend que la raison de la visite de Sara tient à la vaisselle. «I can’t have lunch. I would have phoned but I wanted to bring back the dishes I borrowed.» Un carton rempli d’assiettes et de pichets séparent les deux femmes à l’écran. Il les lie et en même temps les désuni. Dans un plan rapproché les deux femmes sont de profil, la tête de Sara se situe dans le prolongement de la vaisselle tandis que celle de Cary  surplombe le carton. À l’écran comme dans la vie, l’utilitaire a pris toute la place chez Sara. Jouant l’entremetteuse, elle court après les mondanités de toute sorte: «It is George [son mari] of course. He just phoned that he is bringing a week-end guest. Last minute notice as usual! And what with a hundred of other things to do. I have to dig up a date tonight for this Mister Allenby!»  Comme en témoigne ce bref extrait, le flux soutenu de ses paroles masque difficilement la vanité de son quotidien.

À l’inverse, Ron ne comble pas les silences, il n’est pas en représentation. Ses réponses laconiques aux questions de Cary montrent son refus de se prêter au jeu des frivolités. À trois reprises Cary interroge Ron sur l’avancée de son travail et sur le jardinage. Mais Ron répond par une simple phrase toujours suivie d’un silence.

Cary : «I always wished I knew more about gardening. Do you think I ought to take it up ?»

Ron : «Only if you like it.» Pause.

En renvoyant Cary à elle même, c’est à dire à ce qu’elle veut et non à ce que lui dictent les convenances des discussions mondaines, Ron s’inscrit dans une démarche plus authentique. Cary le comprend très vite et décide de jouer à son tour la carte de la sincérité. «I am Mrs Scott» ajoute-t-elle, comme si elle voulait indiquer à Ron sa nouvelle franchise. Dès qu’elle se présente telle qu’elle est, Ron devient plus loquace et lui parle de sa vie. Contrairement à Sara, Ron se satisfait d’une vie simple en harmonie avec la nature. Horticulteur, il vit au milieu des arbres et les cultive. Sa passion de la nature attise celle de Cary. Elle renaît quand celui-ci lui donne une branche de Koelreuteria censée pousser (selon un proverbe chinois) dans une maison où il y a de l’amour. Ron nous parle donc d’amour tandis que Sara nous parlait de rendez vous arrangés et de relations fondées sur l’apparence. Dès la cinquième minute, la relation amoureuse entre Ron et Cary se joue. Le spectateur comprend qu’une histoire d’amour va naître malgré les différences essentielles qui séparent les deux protagonistes.

En outre, Ron a réussi à atteindre Cary non pas seulement par la pensée mais aussi physiquement. Il franchit la barrière de la terrasse alors que Sara ne rentre pas dans l’espace de Cary, elle reste à l’extérieur, en surface. Le langage corporel de Sara, distant en apparence, n’a rien d’anodin car il annonce le comportement superficiel de la communauté toute entière vis à vis de Cary. À travers cette première relation construite sur l’apparence la problématique centrale qui régit la vie de la petite bourgeoisie se dessine.

D’autre part, les prises de vue présentant les deux personnages signent l’opposition entre Ron et Sara. Celle ci est filmée à trois reprises en plongée. L’inclinaison de la caméra vers le bas associe Sara au sol, à la terre.  Ainsi lorsque Sara s’adresse à Cary l’attention du spectateur est dirigée vers le bitume où un tas de feuilles mortes brûle.

Visuellement opposées les prises de vue relatives à Ron se placent en contre plongée laissant apparaître les arbres et le ciel au dessus de sa tête. D’abord lié à la nature et par extension à la vie, l’univers chez Ron n’est pas limité. Il ne se heurte pas comme chez Sara à la chaussée, en d’autres termes aux délimitations établies par la société. Ainsi les plans cinématographiques marquent très clairement l’affrontement de deux idéologies opposées. L’une niant le principe de la nature (symbolisé par les feuilles calcinées) et rivée au monde terrestre, l’autre admettant la domination de la nature.

Cary sera dans la suite du film prise en tenaille par ces deux idéologies. Déjà assujettie aux principes de la doctrine utilitaire, Cary à l’écran est associée à la maison (symbole de la pensée matérialiste). Filmée en plan rapproché à l’épaule    Cary est dominée par sa maison. À l’arrière plan, seule la bâtisse apparaît, envahissant de fait tout l’espace vital de Cary. Face à cet emblème, s’oppose directement l’arbre lié à Ron. Lorsque  Cary invite Ron à s’asseoir à sa table,  on distingue un arbre  dans le prolongement du dos de Ron. Dans une logique ascendante le petit arbre s’étire au delà du plan de la caméra. Là encore, le haut s’oppose au bas (de la maison) soulignant les deux pôles contraires qui nourriront la tension du film.

I.R

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Cindy Sherman au cinéma

Image

Unititled Film Still #14, 1978

Untitled Film Still #48. 1979.

 

Photos extraites du merveilleux catalogue "The Complete Untitled Film Stills : Cindy Sherman".

Warhol disait à propos de cette artiste caméléon: "She is so good, she could be a real actress".