Sunday, February 25, 2018
Cinematography Focus: In The Mood For Love

Cinematography Focus: In The Mood For Love

Today I want to appreciate the work of Christopher Doyle, who worked cinematography magic in Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love (2000). The attention to detail and colour palette in this film is incredible and really sets the tone for the whole film. There is a recurring theme of warm reds and pinks yet contrasted with cooler greens and blues from time to time. As I mentioned in another cinematography focus post, this film also reminded me of David Lynch's artistic techniques. I would highly recommend seeing this film, to just purely appreciate the overall aesthetic - it's stunning. I think a film is so well made that when you freeze-frame a shot, it practically looks like a painting or photograph - in this case, In The Mood For Love does just that.

Thursday, February 22, 2018
How Props And Characters Help Us Understand The Protagonist

How Props And Characters Help Us Understand The Protagonist

Another of my university essay's today, from a module I studied about French cinema. We looked at several key films from the movement including Agnès Varda's 'Cléo de 5 à 7'. 

Props, objects and characters often play a significant role in a movie in order to understand a protagonist’s personality and their role within the film. In Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), there are several key objects Varda uses recurrently which advance our understanding of Cléo, as the lead protagonist. I'll focus on three examples which Cléo handles and observes in her surroundings to help us comprehend her character and what is happening to her. Firstly, we can analyse the tarot cards used in the opening scene which introduce Cléo’s character as superstitious and fearful, creating a certain image of Cléo to the audience. Secondly, exploring Varda’s frequent use of mirror’s which develop our understanding of Cléo’s vanity and how the mirrors evolve to represent Cléo as someone different. Lastly, I will look at the people Cléo engages with throughout the film and how they help her develop from the observed to the observer.

Varda opens the film showing a table of tarot cards where a fortune teller explains to Cléo what her future holds for her. Someone that goes to see a fortune teller is perhaps experiencing a time in their lives of uncertainty and needs reassurance - this applies to Cléo, as she is uncertain of her health and is seeking reassurance, an answer to her anxieties.

The fortune teller explains that she sees illness and disease in Cléo’s future. Cléo knows she is expecting results from a biopsy at the end of the day, thus making her fear the result of said biopsy. Whether this produces itself in Cléo’s reality or not, Cléo initially allows it to define her mindset for the rest of the day. This tells the viewer that Cléo is often dependent on others for self-validation and she lacks the ability to think for herself.

Mirrors can have both a visual and mental self reflectional purpose when it is used in films, which we can apply to protagonist Cléo. The first use of mirror’s in the film is on Cléo’s exit from the tarot card reading. We see Cléo look in the mirror, to check her reflection, fix her hair, to make sure she looks presentable. Despite the bad news from the tarot reader, she still remains concerned about her appearance to others. She does not see others, she only sees herself through others eyes and the mirrors reinforce the importance of Cléo as image. 

Before she leaves the building, again, she checks her reflection in the mirror and says “Ugliness is death. As long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive”. She uses her reflection as self validation, to convince herself that beauty holds more power over health. As long as she is beautiful, she is in good health. In 'Reflections in a broken mirror': Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7, it is stated that “It is in the vestibule of the soothsayer’s building that the first striking mirror photography occurs, a technically difficult mise en abyme, in which we see Cléo looking at herself in a glass, reflected in a mirror opposite, so that we observe an apparently endless succession of Cléos gazing at an infinite parade of reflections of herself.” (Nelson, 1983). This camera technique described in the quote, was used to show that Cléo is “becoming other people’s perception of her, as others influence her to change as to influence others, in an endlessly repeating pattern like that of the mirrors.’’ (Nelson, 1983). This could suggest that Cléo has multiple images of herself and there are several ways in which she is perceived. Each mirror thus represents the gaze of people around her.

She continues to be the local point of the camera shot as she wanders through the streets of Paris towards the café. In the café, she rejoins with her maid Angèle where Cléo looks into the mirror behind her, which has a split down the middle, showing her to be somewhat broken on the inside, she says “I might as well be dead already”. The worries in her head reflect on the outside, turning her into someone she sees as ugly, in which she simultaneously sees death. She takes out her pocket mirror, readjusts her hair and puts her belt on - which Angèle removed earlier as she became hysterical. This content pattern of checking her appearance then checking again, tells us that Cléo in fact lacks a lot of self confidence, needing to reassure herself of her beauty and how she is presented to others.

Afterwards, Angèle and Cléo visit a shop, where Cléo tries on different hats before deciding on one she wants. We can see that Cléo appears happier, in this joyful scene where she is playing dress up like a child. When trying on each hat, she looks in the mirror and smiles back at her own reflection.

She says “everything suits me. Trying on hats and dresses intoxicate me.”. She turns back to look at either Angèle or the shopkeeper, pouting and showing off herself in each different hat, looking for validation in their expressions of her beauty. As she stares at herself in the mirror, a group of soldiers and horses go past the shop window, which Cléo does not seem to notice at all as she is transfixed by her own gaze. Even when she purchases the hat, we see a reflection of Cléo presenting the image of Cléo to the audience twice, reinforcing her image is her identity.

In her apartment later in the film, we see there are several mirrors scattered throughout her bedroom, so there is always a moment for Cléo to check her appearance. Following the revolutionary song rehearsal, the film advances into it’s second half, and the transgression from Cléo from the observed to the observer. As she changes into her black outfit, for the first time she does not look at her reflection in the mirror in front of her, she leaves the apartment without verifying her appearance. When Cléo goes outside, we see the first major transformation in how she sees her reflection - she exclaims “I thought everyone looked at me. I only look at myself, it wears me out.”.

Cléo is beginning to see her reflection from a different perspective. In ‘To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema’, it is noted that this is “Cléo’s critical moment of recognition and the mirrors no longer provide her with confirmed identity as beautiful object” (Flitterman-Lewis and Flitterman-lewi, 1996, pp. 268 - 283). However, is she no longer seeing herself as this beautiful object, because her sadness and worries are more powerful than her beauty? Though Cléo can no longer be satisfied with being seen as a beautiful object, as a puppet by her peers, she realises she has not been looking at the world around her and experiences some kind of epitome and an awakening in consciousness from being completely naïve to how she previously saw herself.

In the following chapter between 18:04 and 18:12 where her friend drops her purse and her compact mirror is broken, Cléo says that this is “an omen of death” - which perhaps signifies the death of Cléo’s old self, to allow the birth of Cléo as a new woman. Later on, Cléo and her friend come across a scene where a man has been killed. Curious, they both look at what’s happened - in this scene, the camera takes focal point in Cléo’s face but this time seen through the broken window where a shot was fired. This time, the mirror does not present Cléo as her perfect former self but instead shows Cléo through a flawed and fragmented image of the broken mirror, provoking fear in Cléo that her beauty no longer has the power to give her self validation. She cares no longer how she sees herself or how others see her but she cares about how she sees others.

In Cléo de 5 à 7, we see that certain characters have a powerful influence over her and they contribute to the evolution in her character. “She is a little doll, manipulated by men, who makes no decisions for herself and only sees herself through others eyes” (Flitterman-Lewis and Flitterman-lewi, 1996, pp. 268 - 283). The first encounter we see is Cléo with the tarot card reader, a woman who Cléo merely knows but allows to predict her future and influence her state of mind. She is awaiting a biopsy result, therefore to reassure herself, she makes this visit to the tarot reader to get an opinion, because she is always seeking an answer or a solution to her worries, to put her mind at rest. 

We are presented with Angèle, Cléo’s maid. We never in fact meet any of Cléo’s family therefore Angèle behaves in a maternel, mother-like figure towards Cléo. Angèle treats Cléo like a child, calling her a “drama queen” who “always needs looking after”. She is the shadowing self doubt in Cléo’s life, making her critical of her own decisions and choices, and also passing on her own superstitious thoughts onto Cléo. Though Angèle says Cléo behaves like a child, we see that Angèle does not give Cléo much independence to do things on her own, she encourages her child like side, occasionally making petty complaints about it but never actually teaching Cléo how to be like an adult or letting her be one. She is Cléo’s default shoulder to cry on, and is never assertive enough towards Cléo, maybe afraid she will damage Cléo’s already weak state of mind. 

In the hat shop, Angèle tells Cléo not to wear anything new on a Tuesday, in fear of bad luck, which Cléo doesn’t completely agree with, but let’s Angèle’s beliefs influence her own, showing Cléo to be a persuasive, gullible character who can’t make decisions by herself. Previously in the coffee shop, Cléo asks for a coffee but Angèle says that “coffee’s make her anxious, or jittery” - perhaps Angèle thinks she knows what is best for Cléo but Cléo exclaims she wants a coffee and asserts her needs over what Angèle thinks she needs. Whilst Angèle chats away to the men in the café, Cléo seems to be forgotten, as if she is a burden to the others, similar to a child who has been told to be quiet.

Later on, in Cléo’s appartment, she is surrounded by pretty, feminine objects, including some kittens who are running around the room. Angèle helps Cléo put on a long bathrobe over a night dress in silk and lace, showing Cléo to be still so childlike that she cannot dress herself.

Cléo receives a visit from her partner, someone she is linked to romantically. They exchange small conversation and a kiss. We see that he has not come to spend a lot of time with Cléo, but only for a bit of her affection, and ignores Cléo’s worries of her health by saying “what now?”., implying she always has something to complain about with her health. After his visit, comes the arrival of Bob the pianist and Maurice for her rehearsal. This is a pivotal scene in the movie, because Cléo begins to realise that she is being exploited and controlled by these people in her life, including Angèle.

She says it won’t be long till she becomes a puppet for the music industry and leaves the house on her own - this is the first time we see her go out on her own in the film. We see a new found confidence and independence in this scene for Cléo no longer needs to rely on another for self approval or validation. Whilst Cléo is walking around Paris, Varda has used point of view shots, looking from Cléo’s perspective at others, including flashbacks of collective shots of the tarot card reader looking at her, Maurice, Angèle and her lover, when they were looking at Cléo, which she only realises now by reflecting back on it, she is aware she was never actually looking at them.

Following this, Cléo goes to see a friend who is working as a nude model for artists. This scene shows a transformation in Cléo’s state of mind in how she sees the body and how she sees herself. Her friend tells her that “the artists do not see me as a sexual object, but as a work of art” enlightening Cléo to see her body in a different way, that her body is not an object to please the gaze of others.

As Cléo gains these new perspectives on different aspects of her life through the people she engages with, she begins to evolve mentally into a woman more self aware and in control of her choices. Perhaps these people and their ideals have always been present in Cléo’s life, however, now in her shift of consciousness, she is beginning to realise what is happening around her, finding more interest in others, and less in herself.

Her final, yet the most important encounter she makes is with Antoine, the soldier, who she meets in the Parc Montsouris. This brings Cléo a third lesson - Antoine shares his views on nudity and the beauty of our many-faceted world. Similarly to her friend in the previous scene, Antoine sees things from a different perspective and helps Cléo “accept her physical beauty and her physical mortality” (Nelson, 1983). Antoine explains to her that he will soon return to the Algerian fighting, helping her to accept that many others in the world “may be on the way to an early grave”. Cléo realises she is not on her own, and her problems become less serious after meeting Antoine because she sees that she is not the only one who has worries and anxieties. Antoine shows her how to not fear life but to embrace it and all the challenges that come with it.

Finally, Cléo, still with Antoine, sees her doctor, whom she has been waiting for her biopsy results from all day. The doctor tells Cléo that after two months of chemotherapy, and she should be back to her normal healthy self. He tells her not to worry, and drives off in his car. The doctor has a care free attitude which initially leaves Cléo shocked and anxious by his response, almost putting her back into a fearful state of mind. 

However she comes to the realisation that she suddenly feels happy, and not scared anymore. Throughout the film, it is evident that Cléo seeks reassurance and the opinions of others to settle her worries. This final encounter from the doctor was exactly what she was waiting for all day. Cléo no longers fears her illness, or let’s it control her thoughts.

Through Varda’s use of mirrors in Cléo de 5 à 7, we have seen the transformation in Cléo from the woman who is self aware to the woman who becomes aware of life beyond her reflection. The mirrors used throughout the first part of the film explore Cléo’s relationship with vanity which finally takes less priority in her life - she no longer seeks beauty in her own reflection but in the beauty in the world around her. Lastly, Cléo’s encounters help in her evolution of consciousness, Cléo naturally being influenced by those around her, finally listens to those she wants to hear the opinions of and lets it open her mind to see and think in a different perspective, changing Cléo’s character from a superficial, self conscious woman to an independent, free thinker.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Cinematography Focus: Buffalo 66

Cinematography Focus: Buffalo 66

The spirit of independent cinema is fully explored in Buffalo 66 by Vincent Gallo. Gallo is credited with directing, editing and the music soundtrack and cinematography credited to Lance Acord, who made his feature debut with this film. When I first watched this film I was more immersed in the protagonists and the story than the cinematography but looking back on some stills from the movie, I found numerous shots which inspired me. A lot of the lighting and juxtaposition of shots reminded me of David Lynch, particularly the bowling alley scene when character Layla is in focus with a spotlight whilst performing a dance. A lot of other shots evoke the distance and lack of affection in the 'relationship' between the protagonists. I think the lighting is beautiful and sets the atmosphere of the whole film. I haven't actually talked about this film on here before, but I would definitely recommend it.

Saturday, February 03, 2018
Cinematography Focus: The Virgin Suicides

Cinematography Focus: The Virgin Suicides

I'm in awe of cinematography. How elements such as lighting, colour palette and such can give across a particular mood of a film, like a painting. I've decided to start a new series on the blog called 'cinematography focus' where I'll share still shots from films I've seen that I admire and I think carry a certain image of that film. I recently watched The Virgin Suicides which I'd already seen in the past, but needed a refresher. I'm currently reading the book A Cinema Of Girlhood by Fiona Handyside who discusses the girlishness expressed in Sofia Coppola's films such as this one. I really enjoyed watching the film with everything I'd learnt from the book in mind and seeing how Coppola uses the innocence and virginity of the 5 sisters and exploits it through costume, colours, props such as cuddly toys, perfume and cosmetics. The mind behind the cinematography is Edward Lachman. He contrasts these pink, dreamy, soft angelic shots against blue, moody tones which expresses the entrapment the girls feel in the second half of the film. Here are my favourite shots.