P:O.V. No.5 - Three Recent Short Fiction Films, WIND

Film, Adaptation, Photograph

Edvin Kau

Titles and pictures

The Hungarian film Wind is based on a photograph called Three Women, but this we don't know, until the end credits state: "From the photograph Three Women (Audincourt, France 1951) by Lucien Hervé." Instead, at the very beginning we just see a black screen with the text: "Three Women (Audincourt, France 1951) by Lucien Hervé". At this moment, initially, the audience has no chance of knowing precisely what this piece of piece of information is referring to. As a spectator one knows that it is not to the film itself, since one has already been informed in an invitation, announcements, or the like, that the title is Wind. "Three Women" may refer to a painting, a short story, or a poem for that matter. Perhaps even a novel.

Only at the very end is the actual photograph shown, together with its title and those three words "From the photograph..." added to them in the credits. The photo shows just the three women standing in front of some trees and houses. They are looking to the left out of the frame, at something going on off screen, but the object of their interest is not visible to the spectator.

Fig. 1. The opening frame. First text.

Fig. 2. The "moving" women

Fig. 3. The photograph.

Fig. 4-5. The two closing "shots". Combination of the texts.

When we start watching the film, we are only able to read the text as referring to the three persons who emerge in the film, as the first frames fade up on the screen. Then they are there, and the picture begins to move.

The shot. A structure

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So, what has the film done to, or made from, the photograph, even before we have seen it at all, as we do at the finish? To suggest some possible answers to this, we may consider 1) the structure of the film as a whole and 2) what one might call the plot (even if it is anything but traditional in this film), and then try to combine these two in a discussion of the relation between film and photograph.

As the above description suggests, the structure of the way in which the film unfolds, is very simple. The main thread has a three step structure: 1) from the three women, 2) the camera begins one long movement to the right, during which it captures the entire plot with all of its events, only to end up in 3) the same position as in the beginning. Then we see the women turn away from the camera and walk towards the house in the background. Fade to white; and at this point, one might say that a fourth element is added by the fade up to the photograph plus the text, as described above.

What happens in this film, then, is shown during this single, long camera movement. In fact, between the black screen of the beginning and the white one at the end, this movie consists in its entirety of a single shot. There are no cuts, no inserts, no editing at all, no comments, no voice over, no ordinary dialogue. Just a moving image, a scene with people acting, and sound.

The shot. A plot?

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What are the women looking at? What are the other people doing? What is the action I mentioned? Towards the end of the camera movement we see an execution scene. A group of people are attending the hanging of five persons. Four of them apparently are already dead, and we see the executioner killing the fifth.

This situation could have easily been shown in a few seconds instead of using approximately 6 minutes of time and camera traveling. All one needs is a shot of the women, one of the execution, a cut from one to the other, and a final cut back to the first. So, what does the long take with its all but simple tracking shot (which is, in fact, rather complicated, as we shall see) contribute to the story?

We may point out a number of examples of what happens, or what is shown or on the agenda, or however one would like to call it, during the traveling:

a. Some elements we may call events: apart from the execution and the women walking away, one may also say that about the appearance of the three travellers who walk through the picture from right to left, while the camera is tracking away from the women in the opposite direction. They are entering the fictional univers; and, as the word goes through film history, "who are those guys?" What are they doing? Do they have a part to play in relation to the main characters of the film - and by the end of the film, will they be tracked down and killed too?

Also, what about the sound of the wind and its effects (on swinging doors, grass, water)? Those too are almost a series of events, and they take part in setting the mood of Wind's universe. The wind in this way has a role in Wind. Every detail, large or small, may be seen as an event and given a role in this minimalist film practice.

b. The description of the surroundings is another part of the traveling. The barren land with the houses and farms with great distances between them, expressing isolation and perhaps circumstances, where people have only themselves for trust and protection.

c. The execution scene: we see people who have taken their destiny (and the victims') into their own hands.

d. Etc. One could also choose to pay special attention to the birds, the barking dog, and the tree and it's shadow under the almost blinding sun shining directly into the camera, and other details...

What is told (not in any story "behind" the important possibilities mentioned above, which I have called events or elements of plot, but in the way all this is presented) is precisely the result of the following: the meaning of the long take and elaborate tracking shot does not originate from what they may refer to "behind" themselves and/or "behind" the events presented in the plot, but rather from their very own extension in time and space. This means, between start and finish of the camera's journey, the rhythm and "hesitation", in time, on the one hand, and the route and stages, in space, on the other. The movement literally gives space and time to the film's production of meaning, and to the spectator's work with or on this(ese) meaning(s).

The traveling as an unbroken whole is a relentless motion. It shows the audience no mercy when depicting this space and scene with its presumably tragic state of affairs. Why are these people killing each other? Is it a civil war, or are Mafia-like groups fighting it out?

It is important from an analytical point of view to notice the complexity of the camera work. When tracking away from the direction of the women's gaze, the camera movement is a combination (at least) of travel sideways to the right, a little forward, slight pans to the left (to hold some elements in the frame while continuing the travel), crane up plus slight tilt down, crane down, a little backwards, slight tilt up, pan right. All this, of course, can also be seen as a long row of variations of one tracking shot.

Fig. 6. Tracking right, away from thewomen

Fig. 7. - and forward,

Fig. 8. - crane up,

Fig. 9. - plus tilt down,

Fig. 10. - crane down,

Fig. 11. - tracking and pan right,

Fig. 12. - further to the right,

Fig. 13. - and forward.
This way of practising the language of the moving image contributes to the impact on the spectator's interest and attention. It is heightened in relation to the movement itself; one pays more attention to the edges of the frame or the limits of its visible field, and to what might appear from one second to the next. In fact, Iványi creates a suspense effect using this play and interaction with the spectator's perception. What is appearing now from the right? What was it we saw, and what is now disappearing out of the frame to the left? Sergei Eisenstein has drawn attention to and discussed this importance of the framing in his article "The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram" (written in 1926).[1]

All these elements and possibly others make this camera journey across the whole of the horizon very important to Marcell Iványi's adaptation of the photograph. His stylistic insistence has a story to tell. But it is to be found in his way of doing things, in the very camera movement and its complexity. It is aesthetics as rhetoric.

The result is that Wind gives us the 360deg. setting for a possible point of view-montage mentioned earlier. Furthermore, apart from adding a lot more, as I have said, to a simple registration of the fact that some women are looking at some men being hanged by other men, the masterly travelling shot opens up potential paths of interpretation for the spectator, who encounters Three Women, the photograph. What are they looking at? What is happening? Why are they there? What about the five victims: are they relatives or strangers? Are the three travellers just passing through, or what? Is a war going on? Perhaps a revolution, a family feud or clan conflict?

The camera work . What story?

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As I have stated elsewhere, the articulation of space in cinema can show closeness and distance, also in a psychological or spiritual sense: distances not necessarily as anything physical, but a way people are or act in relation to each other. To take an example not without relevance to the film in question "- a pan is neither just an empty space, a kind of "nothing", nor a number of things filling out a spatiality within the frame. It is first and foremost distance and connection all in one, for instance, in the mutual relationship between persons or that between people and things; in any case it is a meaningful relation, that is to say a relation which has a meaning".[2]

The possible meanings and suggested interpretations in Wind are created in precisely this way - through the aesthetic representation that the film offers the spectator to see and hear and reflect upon. So are the possible mysteries and allegories, which we are forced to take into consideration in this case; because Wind does not give answers. It doesn't point out definitely who these people are, who the victims are, who the local people are, who may be the villains, or heroes, or whether they are just ordinary people who have ended up on different sides in an unpredictable and insoluble conflict...

One point should be added. My discussion of these possibilities - the relation between cinematic representation and the spectator, the principles of producing meaning in moving pictures - may also call attention to aspects of the difficulty in using and interpreting (and deciphering!) photographs. As opposed to cinema, photography has no time dimension and only a two dimensional, static space in its mode of representation. Through the use of time and space as representational material and dimensions, cinema can literally demonstrate (aesthetically construct) meaning.

This means changing the photograph in much the same way as film directors do when they they can control the meaning or effect of scenes in film. Carl Th. Dreyer once explained, during a discussion of his film Vampyr: "Imagine that we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a dead body behind the door. Instantly the room we are in is changed. All everyday things in it look different; the light and the atmosphere have changed without having changed in any physical way. Because we have changed, and the things are what we understand them to be. This is the effect I want in my film."[3]

Wind is a fantasy of possible interpretations based upon the photograph. It offers to the audience a range of possible interpretations of the photograph. In this way, we can find an answer to the question about the relation between the film and the photograph; the moving image is an adaptation of the photo. Wind is an adaptation of Three Women. From the mood, the staging, the carefully controlled audio-visual language, it provides inspiration for several ideas of tragic tales. This mechanism of suggestion and producing meaning is, in its turn, up to the spectator to consider alone and discuss with others.

In principle it is the same mechanism which is at work in any film, and specifically in any worthwhile cinematic adaptation of material from other arts. This is what an(y) adaptation does, or should do: bringing genuine interpretations (reflections, etc. ...) and original views on matters of interest to the screen - and not just illustrations of classical novels, drama, etc.

In the movies, the movement of what is visible and audible creates meaning in interaction with the spectator's perceptual activity: the interplay with what is presented in the aesthetically and rhetorically elaborated patterns of the work of art.

The first frames of the three women began to move, and with the photograph the last frames bring the film to a standstill. But through the moving story of the death they see, Wind brings Three Women to life.

Fig. 14-16. 14: the women standing in the wind, looking at the execution. 15: the women walk away. 16: the picture fading way.

The wind, the women, and the film all move while disappearing. In doing so, they leave room for the adaptation's interpretation of the photograph.

1Sergei Eisenstein, "Film Form", Film Form, Harcourt, 1949. Also published in Danish: S. Eisenstein, Udvalgte skrifter, Odin Teatrets Forlag, 1972, p. 99-100.

2Edvin Kau, Dreyers filmkunst, Akademisk Forlag, 1989, 383-84.

3Ebbe Neergaard, En filminstruktørs arbejde, Atheneum, 1940, p. 52. See also Edvin Kau, Dreyers filmkunst, Akademisk Forlag, 1989, p. 205-06. More about suspense: Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock, Granada, 1978, p. 79-80.