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.


ADRIAN said...

Gosh! This is so great! I love this article. It is so rare that bloggers talk about the technicalities concerned with filmmaking... I love this, it encourages me to pursue the technical perspective for the films i have watched. Thanks! I'll bookmarked this!

Marina said...

Hey, Adrian, thanks so much. :)
Glad you liked it. Haven't updated for long, maybe some day soon.. :)
And I'm definitely bookmarking your blog - some great reads there! Will be getting back to it often. :)