Welcome to Framed, a column at Cinematical that celebrates the artistry of cinema -- one frame at a time.
In a typical Framed column, I spend time focusing on a single image from a film and discuss it at length. For the sake of variety, this week I've chosen frames from three films I watched since we last "spoke", and discussed an aspect of each one. As usual you can find it after the jump. In examining these selections as a group, it got me thinking about patterns and contrasts and themes -- none of which I chose consciously. This group definitely deals with life-changing events or situations that are heightened to a surreal level -- two films feeling more like a dream or nightmare, and one an unrelenting caricature.
One of these transformations has taken a lifetime to accrue, another changed lives in a matter of seconds, and the last was forced upon the person. All three films are visually breathtaking in their own right, and rely heavily on architecture which often plays out as a metaphor for the minds and bodies of the characters. The comparisons are endless, and I'd love for you to share your thoughts about the similarities or differences between the actual frames in the comments section. As always, please be warned of spoilers ahead.
Don't Look Now
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Don't Look Now's labyrinthine world provides us with many essential symbols and clues in the first few minutes of its opening. The above frame (a slide from John's photographs of a church, where we see the back of his daughter's hooded head, outfitted in her bright red raincoat) being one of the first indications that Roeg's film deals with nonlinear time and all its illusions. John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) tragically lose their daughter after she drowns on the family's estate.
What follows is a Jungian, phantasmagorical sequence of events that somewhat divides the couple -- John the skeptic, and Laura the believer. We watch as John slowly loses his grip on reality -- perhaps battling with what we eventually learn may be the gift of "second sight". Everything contained within Roeg's story harkens back to this fractured sense of time and space: the recurring images of reflections, bells, clocks, cycles, the displacement and overlay of images and sound, the camerawork, the city of Venice's never-ending channels and passageways, and even John's profession in which he restores crumbling architecture back to it's original state and not something brand new. The above image is a chilling symbol of these complex spirals of time.
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Sorrentino's film is the true story of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti -- a politician of immense power and corruption who became a Senator for life in his homeland. Tied to the Mafia and countless crimes, Andreotti is a fascinating figure mostly because he appears as the antithesis of the powerful person he is. Toni Servillo's interpretation of Andreotti is captivating -- he's a small man with a hunchback who hides behind giant glasses -- hardly the smooth and dashing corrupt politician we'd expect to find in this country. He's cold and almost clinical in his assessment of everything around him, yet he almost comes across as a simple man thrust into power. However, beneath that exterior (which seems cultivated to make others regard him as less of a threat) lies a brilliantly devious mind.
Il Divo is filled with gorgeous imagery -- baroque shots of the halls of Italian power, beautifully lit tableaus and more. However, what often gets lost in the description when talking about the film is the fact that it has some very comedic moments. Take, for instance, the frame I've chosen from the film. In it, Andreotti squares off with a white cat. The shot is beautiful -- the background and the blocking, not to mention the lighting, are excellent -- and absurd at the same time. In the cat, it's as if Andreotti has finally found a worthy adversary and his doppelganger. Someone who's as cunning as he is, yet deceptive enough to not look the part.
Luca Bigazzi's cinematography is just one of the highlights of Il Divo, but it's hard to imagine the film being as successful without it. The cinematographer and Sorrentino have a gift for juxtaposing these breathtaking shots and locations with the horrible things being discussed by the characters in the scene. Or in this case, with the lovely and bizarre moments that Il Divo is ripe with.
Directed by Roman Polanski
World War II, Poland. A woman wails, rocking herself against a wall incessantly, because she smothered her own child in an attempt to (unsuccessfully) avoid capture by the Nazis. Frightened and uncertain, a young Jewish woman innocently asks the German officers where they are taking her only to be shot point blank in the head. A child is senselessly beaten to death while trying to escape to the other side of a stone wall.
With imagery like this, anyone would find it difficult to spot the beauty of Polanski's heart-wrenching tale of survival -- but there are frames to admire amongst the ash and bone. While it'd be easy for any actor to be overshadowed by the menace of bombed-out buildings and the sinister plumes of a war-torn sky, Adrien Brody delivers a quiet, yet emotionally riveting performance that captures our attention in the midst of utter chaos. Polanski's biopic about musician Władysław Szpilman doesn't play out like many Holocaust films. There are no heroes here -- Brody's character never escapes and we watch him suffer through disease, loneliness, and panic. And really, a good portion of his performance is written on his own body. Brody's gaunt appearance, his wild, unkempt hair, and near elastic limbs go through a morbid metamorphosis as we watch things become more devastating around him. He mirrors the landscape in a most disturbing way -- and in the scene where Brody hides out in an abandoned German military hospital we can see this quite clearly.
They say that houses and buildings symbolize the human body in dreams, and in this nightmare Brody's slouched frame and bent legs mimic the broken and twisted hospital furniture and equipment surrounding him. At this point, he's beyond exhausted and near hallucinating. He starts to move his fingers in time to the music that has been playing in his head -- envisioning his beloved piano. The hospitals tubes and wires -- once tools to repair and restore -- now lay wasted in both a mocking and sympathetic way. The stark whites of the room bear a striking contrast to Brody's dark clothing and appearance -- another reminder of why he's been forced to hide, and that no matter where he hides, he's always the odd one out.