A moving picture: life between birth and death

Edvin Vestergaard Kau

First shot: a pregnant woman standing in the locker room of a public bathhouse for women, preparing to take a swim. Last shot: an old woman in the same locker room walking from the depth of the picture towards the camera. Finally, her black silhouette blocks our view, and we are left with a black screen. The end. Between these two shots we are presented with a continuum of ages: babies, small girls, teenagers; young, mature, middle-aged, old, and very old women. There is not much of a plot, hardly a narrative, but a clear structure and a theme, visualized as a picture moving, almost, from birth to death. A cinematic poem with girls and women representing stages of life.

Structures and symbolic qualities
Apart from the general movement between the beginning and the end of life, different roles representing stages of the girls' and women's development are presented in a variety of ways. Series of shots and their characters are brought together in groups. They are joined or contrasted through the methods of editing. For the most part, the use of dissolves can be said to foreground the elements that some of the shots have in common; for example, the enjoyment and playfulness of the small girls in some of the first shots, or the teenage moods of the red-haired girl in the showers and the girl with the tattoo in the following shot. This "gentle" way of making comparisons is also evident in the young and middle-aged women in the montage which includes the woman laughing as she is washed by another, the women in the bubbling water and the solarium, and the woman drying her hair with a towel. Other people also appear, if not in contrast to one another then as independent examples of types, ages, and moods (direct cuts bringing them together).

Also, within each shot we see compositions and choreographies of bodies and faces. This is done in beautiful patterns of space as well as light. Even if each shot has a particular person as its main character, in most cases there are some other ages and types represented beside them or in the background. In this way we get not just a single characterization but several mutual characterizations of persons, bodies, faces and ages per shot or scene.

During the first part of the film, one of the principles is an alternation between shots foregrounding the experience of water in different forms swimming, jumping, showering and so forth and the young characters doing other things out of the water. These situations, and especially the pleasant and even joyful experiences in the water, are mirrored in the later, more grown-up and focused part of the film. In this way, the individual shots as well as the first versus the second half of the film are mirrored through the use of water. And since some of the first examples clearly combine water with birth, happiness, and life, this is also carried into the later examples, with consequences for the symbolic interpretation of how mature and old women use water.

Furthermore, the poetic and symbolic qualities of the film are announced, so to speak, by its title and the perspective it opens for the audience. Does time have a face at all? Or is it just that the girls and the women, their faces, are used as a way of showing the audience that the effects of time can be seen in our physical presence in space? As I see it, this mechanism works the other way around, lending the quality of time to the "face" in the title. Time is literally shown as part of our existence, and what the visual poetry of the film brings to the screen as a visible fact is this: all stages of life are present simultaneously. All the time, as it were.

The aesthetic principle
Some of the shots, or scenes as we might call them, deserve special attention, because they can lead us to an understanding of an important principle of the film's aesthetic practice, if not the most important visual pattern. The most elaborate shots are nos. 28, 30, and 31, near the end (the film has a total of 32 shots).

To take the last one first: The woman at the center of shot 31, probably the oldest of them all, perhaps apart from the lady in the very last scene, is shown with two young women swimming in the pool behind her. In a very elaborate movement the camera tracks to the right, moving from the swimmers to the old lady. Simultaneously panning slightly to the left, it centers her in the frame, at the same time bringing another young woman in sight to the left. So, while she is sitting in front, the film's aesthetic patterning of the material brings her together with the other, young and beautiful, characters populating the space. Her old body and her resignation is combined with the beauty and healthiness of the others and accentuated in definite contrast to them.

Before that, shot 30 shows a woman, perhaps in her late seventies, working on her make-up and checking it in a mirror. Before doing so she draws a curtain to the left behind her to have a little privacy. However, it only blocks out part of the space in the background, and so, like her colleague in shot 31, she is also seen together with some of the other women.

Contrary to this, the woman in shot 29 is shown in her own little locker room. On the one hand the bird's-eye view may be said to make her look lonely, but on the other she seems to be enjoying a peaceful moment for private reflection.

Perhaps the most complicated and elaborate shot is no. 28. From the close-up of the very wrinkled hand of an old woman, an upward tilt and change of focus bring other women behind her in sight. One younger woman passes through the frame from background right towards foreground left. Her disappearance makes another young woman in the showers visible. While she is seen talking to a somewhat older woman, the camera continues its combination of tilt and pan left to end in a close-up of the old woman's face. She is wearing a ring; her earrings are in place; nail polish and make-up too; her hair is carefully done. She obviously still takes an interest in how her beauty and personality present themselves to the world.

The analyses of these shots show the heart of the film's aesthetic as well as its poetic and human principle. Meticulously staged and carefully choreographed it brings different ages together and integrates them into a whole: representations of life. Having analyzed these key shots it becomes apparent that this structure is at work in the film as a whole. (The sound is another element that greatly contributes to the unity of the film. Voices and noises are used very effectively to support the visual montage of characters and ages, and the subtle use of music binds the shots together and also adds to different moods). Different ages and the characters that represent them have their own moments in the foreground. But at the same time we have this simultaneous presence of other ages of life.

Another way to describe the principle of holding different characters together within the space of each frame is to see them as stages of life mirroring each other. When the audience comprehends the poetic world of the frame, what is seen is not another girl or young woman beside or behind an old lady, but a symbolic version of what she may have been; and the other way around: from the baby's and girl's point of view the women are incarnations of possible futures in life.

As we have seen, the mirror structure is an integral part of the film's aesthetic practice, and I shall just mention one more example. The shot mentioned above with the young woman in streaming, bubbling water and the next one with the woman in the solarium, mirror each other. Apart from the wet woman juxtaposed with the dry and warm one, a pan in one direction is met by one in the other.

Girls and women mirror themselves in each other. From a certain age in their teens we see them concentrating on their own mirror images. Both mirror in a literal sense, and their surroundings create pictures of them in their own as well as other people's eyes. In a way they even mirror themselves in the gaze of the audience.

On the other hand, also the director, the poet, the painter of the pictures as well as the audience mirror themselves and their/our fate in the girls and the women through the gaze of the camera. In the mirror of the film we see and reflect upon our own born or unborn children, their childhood and adolescence, our life and the time that creates the ever changing continuum between birth and death, the space we live in.

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