P:O.V. No.7 - Three Recent Short Fiction Films, COME

Collapsing time[1]

Edvin Kau

Difference or identity in time?

In a movie you can cut back and forth between past, present, and future. Because the film material is independent of the chronology of everyday time, it is possible, e.g. in flashbacks/flashforwards, to place earlier or later events in the narrative string. In most instances this is done in ordinary narrative films to make clear or suggest some logical relation between events at different points of the developing narrative. This means that the flashback structure depends on and in itself affirms the difference between present, past, and future events.

Why is it that I feel something else going on, when I experience Ulrichsen's Kom ? My guess is, that it has to do, not with the story itself (its elements and their order), but, put simply, the way it is told. What I'll try to explain is the feeling that Kom makes correspondances between different times; that, in fact, this film makes time collapse. To make this plausible, I shall begin by outlining its narrative structure.

From the window to a kiss or two?

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On a general level, the narrative has three parts: I) we see an old woman (fig. 1) who is thinking of herself and her husband, and the way they met and fell in love; or, how she, as a young girl, seduced him one bright evening at an outdoor party near the sea. Her memories are awakened by her husband's old watch. II) This part shows the party and the two young people's attraction to each other. She used the watch to get his attention. III) Back with the old woman: she takes the watch, and going to her husband in another room, she tries the old watch trick again...

Fig. 1

You could go into more details with a resumé of the story. For instance, that the sound of seagulls indicates that she is looking out on the coast (fig. 1), and that this also (besides the watch) reminds her of the love of their youth; and one could give a more elaborate description of how they have had, and still have the same experience of infatuation, mutual attraction, the joy of being with each other etc.

Watching Time Collapse

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But, it is not this narrative string of elements itself, this story about love, eroticism, and a mutual bond through ages which is at the centre of this film, the effectiveness and the real beauty of it. (Although, admittedly, there is one thing in the order of elements which is of absolute importance, namely that one of the two lines of dialogue with the word "come" must be placed within the closing seconds of the film). The crux of it and its aesthetically precise structure as well as its emotionally engaging magic lies in its pattern and timing of montage. That is, the distribution of time and space elements within its own structure of time-space.

From this perspective, the most interesting characteristics are: 1) the relations between the three parts of the film. What kind of correlations are there between part I (old) and part II (young), part III (old) and part II, and between part I and part III? And 2) what are the hints in part I as to our understanding of part II and III? And of the film as a whole?

Before we try to answer the last questions by going into more details on part I, let's have a look at how Ulrichsen creates the correlations through montage. Relatively simple, as it were, but very elegantly done, too. The key examples can serve to give the idea. The editing directly combines the old woman with her husband as a young man; they meet across a cut (fig. 2-3).

Fig. 2-3

She takes an old watch from the table (fig. 4-5), and a cut brings us to her as a young girl at the party (fig. 6-7). As she takes the watch (fig. 5), the soundtrack already introduces the music from the party, a connection before the fact, so to speak). She is watching young people a little older than herself flirting and kissing. But she is also holding the watch which she must have purloined from him, and following him with a lovestruck gaze. (fig. 8-9).

Fig. 4-9

As she approaches him, he sees the watch, and is surprised that it has disappeared from the pocket of his waistcoat (fig 10-12). He follows her, as she walks towards a shack where they can be by themselves. As they stop for a moment, she puts the watch into his pocket (fig. 13) and says: "Come" ("Kom") (fig. 14); they kiss each other, and we see their hands (fig.15-16). Before they make love, a cut brings us to the old woman, and it is clear what memories make her smile (fig. 17). Her old hands take the watch, put it where the young ones put it, she takes her husband's hand, and as she leans towards him, she says: "Come" (fig. 18-21).

Fig. 10-21

This little film is a demonstration of cinematic time as a possible suspension of the conventional concept of time. The editing and the possibilities in the moving images, of making direct connections across what we ordinarily consider even huge gaps in time, show that different times and ages are embedded in each other. Even if it seems so at first glance, Kom is not an ordinary flashback structure. Of course, the couple is doing things, both as young and as old people, but on the other hand - in the interpretation and the stylistic choices of the film - they are doing precisely the same things, all the time. Events, things, minds, and persons are in different places and times at the same moment. This is accomplished just by showing, repeating, combining elements within the moving image. Time disappears and distance is overcome.

Past (1), present(2), and future(3) are not just presented in this chronological way:

Rather, it is a matter of overlapping, like this:

that is, with the possibility of complete simultaneity, perhaps more than that: different "pieces" of time as if enclosed in Chinese boxes.

Cinema can literally show people or things to be in different times and places at the same moment. Unfolding in time and space in the real world the moving image can suspend space and time. Spatiality and duration are prerequisites, but only as points of departure. The moving image is able to "steal", and redefine or reproduce in another shape, what we might call screen time and screen space, which, when projected as moving pictures, can make time stand still (lose intervals; we are here, at this spot!) and space stop (lose distance; we are in this now, at this moment!).

This kind of "meeting place" for screen time and real time defines some conditions: we have to be there, in real time, to experience reel time. We do not "disappear" into cinematic time or fiction time (as much speculation on different types of so-called identification suggests). We are literally in front of the moving image. The moving image is producing meaning in and of time-space. And as spectators we experience this meaning as structures in time and space. The meaning of the moving image is very much a sensual thing. We have to be there physically (and I think we are consciously; more so, than often suggested) to hear and see what is going on in the pictures.

So, by using and repeating the watch, the hands, the faces, and the gestures - and by bringing them, and the lovers' minds, together in a very precise montage - Marianne Ulrichsen succeeds in suspending time. In a way the two people are the incarnation of collapsing time. But the time structure of the film is even more intricate than already analysed. Before "meeting" her husband as a young man across a cut (fig. 2-3), as I mentioned above, something has happened in relation to the first shots of her, sitting by the table and

Fig. 22-28

Fig. 22-28. Frames representing every shot of part I, in the right order. The old woman is looking out the window - and at the watch, something we only learn when she picks it up in fig. 27. Before this is shown, fig. 25 shows her on her way from table to husband, and we see him as she is reminded of him, fig. 26. These two shots take us forward as well as backwards in time, even before we have left part I to see the next two parts of the film.

gazing out the window. (See fig. 22-28 above, and the description of them). She has actually left the table (fig. 25) and gone to the room where her husband is (this is at least a plausible way of seeing these shots, and the difference between them).

When she sees her (old) husband, we capture her memory - the young fellow (fig. 26). And after the shot of him, we are even further back than the shot immediately before that of him, namely with her sitting by the table, looking at the watch and reaching for it (fig. 27-28). The shot of the young boy belongs to part II, but is interpolated with the material of part I. Thus we have two intricate collapses of time, even before part II with the party: he is shown "too early", and the woman has already got up from the table to go to her husband (which otherwise is shown in part III). But when we return to her, we go to her first moments with the watch, before she rises from the table (fig. 27-28).

Furthermore, when part III returns from the party of the past to the old folks, we start with a shot of the old woman (fig. 29-30, same shot. See also fig. 29-35 below and the description of them), a cut to when she actually picks up the watch, and a direct cut to her hands putting the watch in his pocket. She leans towards him and repeats their little word: "Come".

Fig. 29-35.

Frames representing every shot of part III, in the right order. The old woman's response to the memory of their first erotic experience is immediately connected to the watch, and the montage very swiftly completes the chain: watch, watch in pocket, eye contact, smiles, hands, "come"...

So, part III skips her walk from the table to him altogether. Just as part I went a little "too far" (the shot of the young boy in fig. 26) and returned to the table/window- shots, part III goes a little "too far" backwards, maybe in order to connect the very first shots of the beginning with the ending. So much the better. This example of the mechanics and aesthetics of film art couldn't care less about the logic of everyday concepts of time. It shows the time mechanisms which I have outlined at work.

The "timeless" use of cinematic time in Kom is directly related to memory. This playing with time and space is very much part of the enjoyable experience of viewing this film. Sitting in the time and space of the real world, we see time collapsing. This is where a certain way of using an art form's media specific characteristics becomes poetry.

[1] Parts of this article have been presented in a paper entitled Mediated Time at the conference "Technologies of the Moving Images" at Stockholm University, 6-9 December 1998. This paper has been reworked and enlarged into an article and may be published in a book with procedings from the conference (by John Libbey).

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