gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Tag Archives: cinematography

Theory vs. Emotion in Film

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When we say we like a movie, what are we really saying? Sure we can appreciate and admire  films for their form or content and we can like them for the ideas they convey or for their beautiful cinematography, but what is it that leads us to say we like a certain film? It’s the feeling they evoke in us. There are film theorists who will go great lengths to describe what signs are present in films that cause us to like them, or the ways in which certain films connote or denote things that make them ‘good’ films. But I don’t think that all that theorizing gets to the heart of what makes us like films. I think the power of film really lies in how they make us feel, rather than certain qualities that might be inherent in the film. How often do we like films solely because of their form or content and cast aside the emotions they evoke in us? Perhaps there are truly genuine film connoisseurs who can look at a film only for the ways in which it excels in terms of its medium (and I’m sure there are), but I find it virtually impossible to separate my emotions from my appreciation for a film while I am watching it. If this makes me an average film spectator, then so be it. I would rather remain an emotional film spectator than take the emotion out of the film-vieweing experience and look at films purely from an intellectual standpoint.

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Melancholia

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Melancholia by Lars von Trier is one of my favorite movies. I was absolutely blown away by the cinematography the first time I saw it. It was simply unlike anything I had ever seen before. It starts out with a beautiful series of shots of nature, our place in nature, and the universe at large. This slow motion sequence serves as a reflection on what the universe is, how small we are compared to it, and also how our basic existence is directly contingent upon the universe as a whole. The film is divided into two parts, one for each sister, Justine and Claire, who are very different but are both plagued by an insurmountable fear. Justine battles with severe depression that cripples her ability to form relationships and simply function in general. Claire is haunted by the planet that is hurling itself towards Earth and threatening to devastate life as she knows it. The parallels between the two sisters are striking because neither one can understand the other’s fear or ailment, yet they are very real and valid to an objective viewer.

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The first part chronicles Justine’s wedding reception, which is in a beautiful setting at her sister and brother-in-law’s mansion (shot on the coast of Sweden). Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, marries Michael, played by Alexander Skarsgard, and they seem like a perfectly happy newlywed couple upon arrival to the reception. Justine’s aloofness becomes increasingly apparent as the night goes on, as the party exposes familial tensions and Justine’s state of mind takes over, making it impossible for her to proceed honestly. Her private, intimate interactions with Michael are almost painful to watch and leave you with an empty feeling of frustration. Nevertheless, the aesthetic of the celebratory affair is authentic and stunning, complete with a sky lantern release of epic proportion.

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The second part of the film chronicles Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is the seemingly more sane of the two sisters. But as the planet flyby threatens to come closer to Earth than desired, she becomes paranoid. She becomes obsessed with this planet and even though those around her try to comfort her, there is a sense of impending doom that prevails. Just as Claire tries to help Justine with her struggles, Justine tries to reassure Claire that they are safe, either out of true confidence or indifference due to her own mental instability. I don’t think Justine is entirely confident that they are safe from the planet’s destruction because she seems to be weary as well, but she is somehow not as affected as her sister. As Claire’s fear is revealed more and more, the viewer begins to get the sense that the planet with definitely hit Earth and obliterate it. They build a contraption that tracks the path of the planet to see how close it is, and although initially it seems to be moving farther away, Claire checks it again after some time and it is actually very clearly coming closer and closer. The horror that sets in at this point for both Claire and the viewer is truly daunting. All the while, Justine remains calm and accepts her fate.

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It’s such a visually stunning film that confronts our minuteness as humankind in comparison to the universe. It exposes our unconscious fears that our place on this planet is not guaranteed. It also confronts our inner struggles and fears that may seem irrational, but may actually turn out to be legitimate. It explores the complexity of  human relationships,  family dynamics, and how we must be brutally honest about our feelings, even if they are not desired. I was in such awe the first time I saw Melancholia because it was like nothing I had seen before, and every subsequent viewing has turned out to be a new cinematic journey.

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Ida

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Films with shots that can stand alone as photographs demonstrate the quality of the filmmaker, and I think this is truly how you can tell that a filmmaker is great. Ida is a film with very interesting, unique shots that can definitely stand alone as photographs. It is shot in black & white, which makes it look more dramatic and authentic to begin with, not to mention the beautiful cinematography, which makes it really very compelling.

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A Polish movie directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, it is about a young girl abandoned at a convent as a baby who goes on a journey to find out about her family as a young adult.  She does not do so by choice, but is rather forced to meet her aunt by the Mother Superior at the convent shortly before she is to take her vows. Ida’s first encounter with her aunt is not a positive one, as her aunt does not seem very interested in meeting her, and not yet knowing what her profession is, comes off as a prostitute. Ida is about to go back to the convent after their brief meeting when her aunt retrieves her and decides to start a relationship with her. Ida finds out that she comes from a Jewish family, and considering she is preparing to take her vows to become a Catholic nun shortly thereafter is rather ironic.

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Ida and her aunt go on a little road trip to find out what happened to her parents and they meet the family that was hiding them. This family turns out to be rather unpleasant, although helpful in the end. They find out that her parents and a young boy, who appears to be either Ida’s brother or her aunt’s son, are buried in the woods. He takes them there and digs out the grave so that Ida and her aunt can have proof and perhaps gain some closure. The aunt takes the child’s skull in her arms and Ida does the same with her parents so they can give them a proper burial at the family gravesite. I must admit this sequence is eerie, but it does bring a sense of closure both to Ida and her aunt and to  the audience.

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Along the way, they pick up a young musician looking for a ride. He happens to be going to the same place they are and performs shows at the hotel where Ida and her aunt are staying.  Ida and the musician develop a bit of crush on each other, which in time develops into a relationship. It ends, however, after a sexual encounter much welcomed by Ida, but propels her back to the convent to take her vows and become a nun. Meanwhile, her aunt commits suicide by jumping out of her apartment window and Ida is again left without a family. This is perhaps one of the reasons she decides to go back to the convent. Her blossoming relationship with the musician is brief and filled with passion, but not true love and would not have necessarily turned out to be long-lasting even if she had stayed.

 

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It is a slow-moving movie, it is a quiet movie, and it is a sad movie. Its plot and unique cinematography is not for everyone, but it is beautiful. I would encourage anyone interested in foreign film or great cinematography to give it a chance. It definitely makes me eager to see more of Pawel Pawlikowki’s films and more Polish films in general.

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Belle

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Belle is a beautiful period piece with a message and emotion. I might add that it is directed by a woman, Amma Asante, which I think attributes to why it’s so good. The opening scenes are beautiful and can stand alone as photographs (a quality I always love and look for in movies). Based on a true story, it chronicles an African-American woman’s journey from childhood to adulthood as she is taken in by an aristocratic family in England. It is not that they take her in out of pity, but rather because they are related by blood. Her father, a Royal Navy Captain and the nephew of the family who takes her in, had an affair with a woman during his travels who dies and leaves the child uncared for. Landing in good fortune and good care, she navigates her way between the wait staff and her new family, constantly trying to prove herself and deem herself worthy enough to properly belong. So not only is it a movie about social injustice and the the struggle against slavery, it is a movie about female empowerment and advancement. This is especially emphasized when the family has a portrait made of Belle and her white sister, Elizabeth, in which Belle is depicted as equal to, if not more powerful than, her sister.

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The film is also about the human heart and the various suitors that are after both Belle and Elizabeth. Interestingly, when it is time for the two of them to come out as ladies in society, Elizabeth is encouraged to do so, while Belle is not because of her skin color. This drives them apart, whereas they were previously close friends and sisters. Elizabeth would be the obvious ‘preferred’ of the two because of her delicate beauty, however she is not because of her financial standing, or lack thereof. Belle, on the other hand, not encouraged to have suitors because of her ‘lesser value’ has a huge inheritance from her father who passed away at sea, which makes her desirable despite the color of her skin. She has one suitor whom she originally takes a liking to, but later realizes that he is not the one for her because his family does not respect her, as becomes evident when his brother, previously interested in Elizabeth but casts her aside when he realizes that she doesn’t have any money, assaults Belle and holds his brother in poor regard for his interest in her. All along, Belle has actually been in love with John Davinier, an aspiring lawyer who fights for the oppressed, slaves in this case. Despite resistance from her family who oppose their relationship because of his low standing, financially and professionally, they finally come around and even take his side in regard to his social and political ideals.

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A beautifully done, captivating film that I think definitely merits a viewing. It will keep you intellectually engaged, emotionally hopeful, and visually awed.

Labor Day

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Labor Day is a film about loss, one of the hardest things that we face in life but also something that we all inevitably experience. I know it hasn’t gotten the best reviews, but there were definitely aspects of it that I really appreciated. I thought the cinematography was beautiful and captured light and intimacy very nicely. At times the plot felt like inorganic and like it didn’t flow, but the film did have some redeeming qualities as it went on. The character development was good, especially of Frank and Adele, and watching their relationship blossom was touching. Food and the art of cooking was a nice addition to the film, which is something that I personally always enjoy. There is something about cooking and the way that it employs all the senses that is almost seductive and I thought the way the film portrayed food was captivating. There were elements of fear and suspense as the plot revealed itself and I began to feel sympathetic towards the characters who at first seemed unlikeable and emotionless. The plot takes place over the course of a few days, Labor Day weekend, but the present is intertwined with flashbacks from the past, which make the film feel longer than just a few days. This also allows you to get to know the characters better than you would otherwise. The sense of loss is the most prominent part of the film and it can genuinely be felt at times throughout the whole film, which is heartbreaking but very relatable since it is an inevitable part of life and something that affects all of us in varying ways. There was, of course, also a sense of hope at the end and it did have a happy ending, but it shows you how life is a journey with many hardships and only some rewards.