1 The economy of action in the nine short films presented in p.o.v.
2 Immediate Departure.
The nine short films presented in p.o.v. 1, 3 and 5 illustrate this perfectly.
Speech or absence of speech. In two films (Cat's Cradle and Wind) there is no speech at all, while two films (La Vis and Immediate Departure) use human language at special points and with very particular effects. The simple use of human language is significant in itself.
In the remaining films there is normally a restricted use of speech, often with stylistic effects. The only film which uses language to any greater extent (The Price is Right) is a parody of the language spoken in advertising and television shows.
Thus there is a basic idea guiding the choice of speech in each film.
The construction of space: As with color and language, the construction of space displays a basic idea from scene to scene. There are recurrent spatial devices from one scene to the next: the neo-realistic space in Avondale Dogs, the strange surrealistic mixing of rooms in Cat's Cradle, etc.
Then there is a third possibility for establishing the unity of space: the action "dismisses" the space as soon as a particular action is finished. Thus the space exists only in relation to one particular action. As soon as it has fulfilled its function, it ceases to exist (La Vis, Cat's Cradle and Immediate Departure).
The unity of time. Normally the action (the duration of events related) takes place within a very short time interval, less than 24 hours. Only Cat's Cradle and The Price is Right are exceptions. In some cases (The Beach, Eating Out, The Bloody Olive), we get the impression that the duration of the events related is equivalent to the time taken to relate them.
As in drama of the seventeenth century, we are often given the final phase of an action that has been going on for a very long time (Avondale Dogs, The Beach), but in some films it is as if the action begins from scratch: Cat's Cradle (!), Eating Out, La Vis and Immediate Departure.
The unity of action. Most of the films have a single linear action, whereas two of them have a combination of a main and one secondary action (Avondale Dogs and The Price is Right), and La Vis has a main action together with a series of secondary actions, never interfering with the main action.
Normally the film is based on a simple conflict or problem, be it expressed linguistically or visually.
In many ways this film is representative of the genre. The plot is very simple: A man sees the photo of a woman. He wants to contact the woman and begins to look for her. He finds her twice. His efforts turn into failure. In the end he has been stripped of everything.
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This action is then developed by imposing two impediments, which arise externally and create the elementary tension. After these two obstacles have been removed, the main action continues, but this time, only to change all the preceding actions and to turn them into an illusion. The simplest possible action.
This is exactly what the classic French tragedy did. Out of nothing, it could construct a whole story about human destiny. Racine made the tragedy "Bérénice" on the basis of a single sentence from a chronicle: "Titus reginam Berenicem - - - demisit invitus invitam" (Titus dismissed the queen Bérénice both against her and his own will). Racine's tragedies did not even necessarily end in bloodshed; a bitter separation and loss of illusions were sufficient, as in "Bérénice". In the tragedies, this kernel of action had to be developed in order to achieve psychological depth. This is what happens in Immediate Departure: a development of the action, but with no loss of "graphic" simplicity. To obtain this effect, the film reduces the importance of the verbal language and uses other than linguistic signals for emphasis:
1) the restriction of verbal language to two scenes in the film,1) The main action does not use verbal language; the project of the male protagonist is expressed visually. Verbal language is used in the two scenes where he is submitted to control. Verbal language is thus linked with control and social power. He is forced to identify himself and to justify himself. Verbal language is absent when the film describes what matters: feelings, contact, love, our relations (other than social power) to our fellow humans.
2) the use of eye movements, the gaze of the protagonists,
3) the active use of space, and
4) the position of the protagonists on the screen.
2) Verbal language is replaced by eye movements. This is not new. Any film or television series uses eye movements, but Immediate Departure uses the eyes as the main source of expression for feelings and relations. There is a subtle interplay between the directions of the eyes, the return of the gaze and its non-return). The film is a perfect illustration of the theoretical exposé of Kress and Leuwen in Reading Images (pp. 64 - 67) on the importance of the gaze in visual material.
The story of the gaze in Immediate Departure can be divided into five parts:
A: A happy man looks vaguely into space. (In fact he is looking at himself in the cabin for making passport photos.) Some seconds later we see him going round in the supermarket, looking at nothing and at anything. His glance is unengaged. He is involved in nothing.3) The active use of space. Space is used not only as background, but as an active part of the action, as a metaphor for the feelings depicted.
B: He gets the photos of the woman, and from now on his eyes change completely. They are directed towards a goal, and the use of pov camera becomes a dominant element. When we see the girl, it is normally with his eyes.
C: The eyes of the girl are usually directed towards an absent goal. (This appears in the telephone scenes and the scene in the train where she writes the letter). She never looks at him. When we are in the same position as she is (pov camera?), he never looks at us.
D: When finally he succeeds in making contact by giving her the handkerchief to wipe away her tears, there is no eye contact. She refuses to look at him. Only at the end does she look at him: a gaze of despair, a refusal of further contact. The whole pattern of the preceding actions is tragically interrupted.
E: He flees into the corridor of the train. He looks with empty eyes into the landscape.
We begin in the supermarket, a confusing space with people running like ants in all directions. He is always to be seen in the middle of this ant-hill marketplace. She is always seen against a background.
We follow him through the corridors of the Subway. Now his course is fixed. When the tunnels of the subway stop, the train takes over: a mobile and closed space. However now he cannot escape; he is locked in.
There is a clear contrast between the confused and confusing world of the supermarket and the world of the trains. The supermarket is constructed as a place for ant movements, symmetrical or not. It is a space with no specially preferred visual directions. The world of the trains is a space constructed according to specific geometrical principles. The orthogonals of perspective normally converge in a vanishing point to the left, either just inside the left border of the screen or just outside that border. The vanishing point can be placed above or below the horizontal central line. All this indicates that direction and signifying are linked to the movement from left to right.
4) The position of the persons on the screen follows the same principle of left to right direction. He is normally placed to the left and looks to the right. She is more often placed in the middle or to the right and looks to the left.
According to Kress and Leuwen, pp. 186 - 211, what is already given is to the left of the new elements on the right. The person talking (and thus knowing) is placed to the left, while the person listening (and to whom the information is new) is situated on the right. There is a vast iconographic tradition (in Western art) for positioning in this way. Any picture of the Annunciation is evidence of this: Gabriel placed at the left, speaking to the listening Virgin. If she is at the left, Gabriel is listening to her answer.
The male protagonist in Immediate Departure is on the left. He is our "given" (our identification point) and he looks vaguely towards the right, into the new, an uncertain or even impenetrable future.
The "resolution" of this film, its dénoument, is her refusal: the glacial gaze, a very tiny element of action. Nevertheless this refusal is consistent. His chase through the corridors of the subway, his problems with being controlled, his search for her in the trains, the whole pattern of actions, lead up to this moment of refusal. The project collapses, and he is to go on looking for something new, an empty future.
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