Cinematic Lounge

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Film in space

In his book “Theory of cinema elements”, Nedelcho Milev draws a mathematical example of character relationship in regard to Antonioni’s “Blow-Up”:

The attention cannot but be directed towards the geometrically precise plot composition of the cinematic work. In its structural denotation, the photographer is not only a personage, but also the “apex” of two love triangles, which, in symetry, constitute a firmly balanced square. I will outline them specifically:

O = The photographer
A = The female stranger
B = The body
D = The Artist
C = The artist’s wife

The imaginary-complex relations between the Photographer (O), the Body (B) and the Female stranger (A) constitute “the love triangle” AOB. The Body is not a character, literally speaking (a dynamic personage), but a pictorial RESULT (a static photo object). The relations between the Photographer (O) and the artist’s Wife (C) are analogical. The Artist (D) himself appears only for a moment, but is represented OBJECTLY (through his painting). Thus, the congruent triangle COD is constructed in the structure of the square. The Photographer (O) is in the center.

From here on, Mr. Milev takes this structure on farther artistic levels: the resemblance between the photograph and the painting; the discrepant artistic means through which a common conception is executed plastically – “their views on alienation as a determinant factor of interpersonal relationships in the modern world.”

40 years later, Anthony Minghella transfers this structure to a dimensional space. If in regard to “Blow-Up” one could use the laws of geometry to explain its cinematic structure, for “Breaking and entering” one needs to immerse into the postulates of stereometry in order to fully grasp its potential.

Mathematically speaking, let’s take the 2-dimensional diagram example of character relationship and see if it applies to “Breaking and entering”:

O = Will
A = Liv
B = Bea
C = Amira
D = Miro

By simplifying the structure, we conclude an equal diagram to that of Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.” Essentially, what differs is DISTANCE in space, non-intersection of spacial values, etc. In order to logically deduce this, which I now laid out as granted, let us assume that the diagram above can be applied narratively to the film (it’s the simpliest “plot summary” that one could extract). Thus, we have two “love triangles” that are congruent:

1) A = C (mothers) => AO = CO (not married);
2) B = D (children) => BO = DO (non-biological children);
3) AB = CD (biological mothers).

Simplistically speaking, the conclusion is true. That is because we derived it, by examining the narrative geometrically, in two dimensions:

I) Physical (biological parenthood, nature of the relationships – parallelism between the TWO sex scenes [that’ll be examined later]);
II) Law and mode of life (nature of the relationships; parenthood; the mother, working / “working” at home), which is something that is more or less imposed from the outside, or adjusted to it, but, essentially – dependant on it.

There are films that take these two dimensions and create fine conflicts that serve the progress of a narrative. True, two dimensions is already a conflict.
Not in this film, however, which is imagerily visible even from its very pure cinematic outlook (without the aid of the plot). To explain this, let’s look at two insightful observations that Roger Ebert provides in his review of the film:

To use a metaphor, these two mothers and children are opposing mirrored reflections of each other: blond/brunet, Swedish/Bosnian, upper-class/ working-class, girl/boy ... and Will finds himself caught between them. The symmetry is almost perfect. Which is in part why it all feels so planned, more like an architectural blueprint than a movie.

Observation 1: the two axes (AB-CD) are opposing reflections (rather than congruities as we assumed above);
Observation 2: the film is more of an architectural blueprint than a celluloid inert world.
In order to be truly responsible in our criticism, though, we need to develop these thoughts and expand them until their truthful entirety. Drawing a parallel to the discussion above, take Observation 2:

Mr. Ebert is correct in his linking Will’s profession to the construction of the film, since it is exactly Will who creates the various conflicts on different levels and, ultimately, pushes the film into the third dimension. Let’s look how this idea is executed in the very first shot of the film:

We see Will and Liv through the windshield of their car (thus leaving a “hermetic” space between them and us), separated by a reflection.
Then, Will asks “Shouldn’t there be a warning?” just as the shot progresses to it’s next “non-cloud” segment crowned with the advent of the connecting bridge:

Eventually, he turns around and “there’s a distance” again: the clouds:

From this shot on, the film unveils as a reminiscence, until the “mystery” (Ms. Penn characterises the film as a psychological thriller and she does have a point, for it is chiefly thrillers, suspence and mystery films that make use of this technique the most) is settled in the end.
This opening shot is masterfully organised in three segments that could, in fact, qualify the three acts of the film:
1) Clouds – Bridge, separating – Distance;
2) Clarity – Attempt to fill the distance, everyone on their own;
3) Clouds – Distance – Looking towards each other – Living with the distance.
Notice how the space within the frame is organised: we could see and sense the three dimensions sharply. And we can easily call it an architecture plan, but we’d then deprive it of something substantial – the sound. To use a voice over is not uncommon, but to exploit it as a montage means and a way through which to devise volume and depth is extraordinary if fulfilled appropriately.
Remember the two “counsellor” scenes:


If you rewatch them, you’ll notice how the transition to and from these scenes is created by a disintegration between image and sound: the sound starts earlier and pours into the image (prepares it), then the image is interrupted but the sound continues, making the “cut” smooth.
Thus, while the inside-frame space and the montage is organised architecturally, the sound adds another characteristic: symphony, i.e. the film is not only an architectural, but rather an architectural-symphonic work. Greirson spoke of the symphonic film in regard to how montage can be used to form meaning on its own, the construction of a film around and of visual material – “Baraka”, “Man With a Movie Camera”, the Qatsi trilogy and, of course, “Berlin: Symphony of a Big City.” Here, I think, this montage is inserted in the frame – the visual construction – and the common function of montage is undertaken by the sound.
There is something else, worth noting in the scenes above, that becomes thematic in the visual execution of the film: the three-point oriantated space. Three means integrity, completeness, but also depth. We need three points to constitute a plane. Here how it is used throughout the film to achieve definiteness:

In the opening shot what causes uneasiness is the lack of the third. Two means 2-dimensional, non-definiteness, lack of depth. That’s why in the recurrency of the opening shot in the end:

they had to step out of the car and find depth in the space around.
That’s why, also, Will searched for the completeness of “three” outside. But that relationships cannot be expressed through the means of geometry. They are different planes:
1) Point O (Will) and line AB (Liv-Bea) = plane a;
2) Point O (Will) and line CD (Amira-Miro) = plane b.
Two planes always intersect in a line. Here the only common quantity is Will (O). He needs another “point” to form that line – that’s why, in the end, he feels there are those two sides of him [dark and light]. That “point” is inner, the intersection line is the double personality of Will. But to live on, he must “choose” a plane – reconcile the two halves – as happens in the end.

What draws Will back to plane a is Liv. There’s a great visual representation of this in a scene:

Will and Liv are standing face-to-face, separated by a mirror. They are integrated through their reflections in the mirror. Will is halfly in plane a / the plane of Liv’s “family”.

He talks about closeness and how when once Liv bit him, he truly felt that they were close. Liv bites him…

…and goes back, offering her entire reflection in the plane: she’s there fully and she wants to feel him close. Will doesn’t come close and remains half-reflected.

Then Liv goes away – out of their plane.With a few words so much is said.

Talking about the two sex scenes, there’s a nice parallel between them:

Sex scene 1 [Will-Liv]:
He wants to talk – She doen’t want to talk => She says “Come here”

Sex scene 1 [Will-Amira]:
She wants to talk – He doesn’t want to talk => He says “Come here”

One could conclude it’s an “opposing reflection.” Just as the other formal oppositions Mr. Ebert laid out. So Will is trying to find the same thing but in an opposing context. With Liv, what separates them is sound. With Amira – space (they’re always on different levels: one knowing what the other doesn’t know and vice versa). The interesting thing is that the solution is in the third:
· Bea is exceptionally sensitive to sound;
· Miro is exceptionally capable of overcoming space.
The filling of that distance has always been there and it was their (the two) mistake of not noticing it on time.

Throughout the film, the two intersecting relationships have always been like that:

In the end, this is worked out into:Here how it is executed:Miro steps outside and we see Will behind.Will enters the space outside – plane b.

Amira shows out of the corner and they line into: Amira – Miro – Will. That’s natural, the binding is Miro. Will now understands what he had overlooked.

He steps inside and we see Bea in the front.

Montage cut and we see she is actually between the two – she’s the one who can fill the distance.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A nihilist provocation

Can you clearly state the difference between “documentary” and “fiction” in film? What shapes a film into either a “documentary” or “fiction”?
Imagine a fiction film, that is to say, comprised of a narrative, characters, climaxes, etc. A world, indeed, but an imaginary world – it doesn’t exist in the reality that we physically inhabit and consider…real, but is made up, most probably, out of it. However, things get vague when the correlations are substituted:


The film reel is a document. It preserves an, otherwise, temporal experience – the film viewing (as planned by the filmmaker: similarity to music and theatre, opposition to literature and painting). It’s a constant: THE FILM or THE DOCUMENT. The two variables that form two different fractions are the two REALITIES. But how exactly are they in a correlation to THE FILM?

(1) Is the fraction correct or should the numerator and the denominator change their positions? I say “no” and here’s an argument: the more OUR REALITY is expanded, the less are we prone to perceive film as fiction. If we have had experiences on different levels and in different dimensions, if we have thought – which is the main expanding force for trying to grasp the richness of realities, - failed and tried to think again outside OUR REALITY, which is impossible, of course, then it’s much more likely to perceive a fiction film as less fictional. Juxtaposed to OUR REALITY it will always remain FICTION, but the degree is lessened.
(2) Now, thinking for a while, one could say we ended up in a contradiction here: how can you expand the film’s reality since it is already fixed into the document of THE FILM itself? The characters cannot go or think through different experiences than the ones determined by the hermetic datum of the recorded reel. Just as, when we talk about fraction (1), we take not reality in general, but the snapshot of our momentary reality and thus, at one point or another, the degrees of our perceiving the same film as fiction may differ. Here, we take the cinematic reality, visibly perpetuated : nothing can be added - the acting, the narrative, the set, the music, the dialogue, the gestures – nothing that can be seen or heard can be reduced or added up. What expands, though, and what ultimately makes a piece of cinematic art truly everlasting is the potential, the hidden space (Pedro Costa said in a lecture that cinema is more about what is hidden than about what is shown) – the possibility for enrichness that is fulfilled or, at least, exists within the visible reel. To fulfill these possibilities would mean that the spectator needs to enter. But then, if what expands THE FILM REALITY is OUR REALITY, the fraction is no longer valid and should be trippled, thus fictionalising THE FILM REALITY – for what we contribute to THE FILM REALITY is FICTION correlated to THE FILM. So, if, when the reel starts rolling and the film starts existing on its own, without a viewer, if then the film has been engraved with endless possibilities of expanding ITS REALITY, it could grow out of the limits of the filmic document. Those possibilities needn’t be fulfilled, otherwise, as we noticed, the result is FICTION. When in the reality of the filmic document underlies the vastness of a “subsoil” reality of possibilities, the film itself can no longer envelop that space, thus lessening the degree of documentarity. Nevertheless, the result remains for the correlation is preserved. Ideally, in an all-out film that hides nothing, the fraction should equall “1”. Just as, commonly speaking, documentaries are supposed to strive for “1:1” representation.

Now imagine a documentary film that captures the process, circumstances, reactions, consequences of, say, a natural disaster. Through montage the phenomenon is thought into FICTION. It’s no longer the document it tries to be, but a fictionalisation of it – it has been subjectivised. It aims at OUR REALITY, by trying to preserve IT as a document, but turns into FICTION. Let’s say, then, that the director decides not to use montage – to film the whole reel in a single shot. Has he avoided montage? I say “no” and here’s an argument: he still needs the inside-montage of the frame space in order to create cinema – how it’s been cropped, what has been omitted and, eventually, documentalised. Shooting through “the eye” of the camera is already creating FICTION.

Therefore, it seems to me, that the “ideal” (the closest we can achieve) DOCUMENTARY should not be seeked only in the documentary sphere, but also in the field of fiction. We need FICTION in order to have a complete DOCUMENTARY and we deffinetely do not need the spectator. THE REALITY of the documentary film is always a FICTION of OUR REALITY. If, by using a single shot, the director has filmed OUR REALITY as truthfully as possible (minimally using the possibilities of manipulation through inside-montage and camera movement), what he has done, in fact, is deprive THE FILM REALITY of it’s possibilities for expanding. Thus, whenever the fraction is formed (the reel is rolling), the result will be as closely to DOCUMENTARY as you can get. But, only because THE FILM REALITY is, in fact, a FICTION of OUR REALITY (for it can never be cinematically or artistically entirely grasped). If we suppose that the cinema could film OUR REALITY, then THE FILM REALITY would be as rich as the universe. In a documentary, THE FILM REALITY is the snapshot that has been taken of OUR REALITY and which eventually became FICTION. The more rigid THE FILM REALITY is, the purer the DOCUMENTARY is.

A DOCUMENTARY is a chronicle, a cinematic report, a filmed journey, a story of OUR REALITY told in moving images, but it is also the most plausible historical or biographical picture. A true DOCUMENTARY is born when THE FILM is correlated to ITS REALITY.

A FILM only becomes a DOCUMENTARY on its own, when the viewer is excluded.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


На този сайт започнах проект по един вид кинообучение. За мен и, надявам си, други киноентусиасти също.

Тук изложих накратко защо и как ще протича всичко. Вече са готови първите две части от проекта, а над другите продължавам да работя. Ще обновявам с нови постове колкото се мога по-често.

Този блог ще остане предимно за неща, писани на английски. И посветени на чужди продукции.