Blow-up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Palme d’Or recipient, subverts one’s desires and expectations while undermining typical narrative conventions. In Blow-up, Antonioni presents a murder that is “caught” by the protagonist’s camera, one which never actually receives its expected resolution. This subversion is well-executed as the audience sees their anticipation wither and torment them as a group of mimes engage in imaginary tennis.
Similarly, in Antonioni’s 1960 film, L’Avventura, it begins with a person’s disappearance — one whose subsequent search is void of resolution. Instead, Antonioni chooses to focus on a character who is weak and trying to cope in extravagant society. Antonioni subverts expectation and tests the audience’s patience, as well as narrative standards, in both films.
But is this subversion just Antonioni teasing his audience, or does it carry a deeper and more complex significance? In fact, yes, it very much does. Antonioni describes his intention of narration in L’Avventura as him wanting to “achieve the suppression of outward physical action” in the interest of a “greater interior realism.” Meaning, he wants to show the world in a manner that is true to life and realism.
Is retention of identity and country worth breaching personal morality and happiness?
This is one of the overarching questions found within Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds, where Wajda uses Poland, his home country, as a means to explore the post-war struggle for power and identity. The film utilizes one of the most important days in the country’s history, May 8th, 1945, the day when the war in Europe ended with Germany’s surrender. In examining his country, the uncertainty of the future is taken as a key element, although Wajda does not give a definite answer to what will become of his country, examining for the sake of exploration. This uncertainty has an interesting dichotomy, which is in the form of a fear of the unknown and the beauty of faith and hope, which is similar to speculation about death and possible afterlife.
Editor’s Note: Below is an essay written by Film Blogger Christian Mietus, covering the themes of faith within Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1955 film, Ordet. Mietus originally wrote the piece for his Intro to Film Studies class with Jet Fuel Review‘s very own Dr. Simone Muench. Spoilers follow.
Ordet (or “The Word” in English) is a Danish film that was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1955. Dreyer is known for directing some of the world’s most praised arthouse films, such as The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), and Day of Wrath (1943). Although he receives this praise today, his films were never financial successes until Ordet’srelease, which could be attributed to a variety of reasons, specifically the film being an incredibly meticulous mastery of the craft by Dreyer and cinematographer Henning Bendtsen.
Dreyer’s body of work has many themes that are represented in many fashions. For example, in a Senses of Cinema article written by Thomas Beltzer, he writes, “In Dreyer’s films … It is always a faith well placed because the spiritual realm is as present and real as the material realm, and both are completely interwoven.” In Ordet, the themes of faith and the fantastical realm are interwoven into the mortal realm through the tragic death of Inger Borgen (Birgitte Federspiel), as well as through the actions of characters including Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg), Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), and Mikkel Borgen (Emil Hass Christensen) — all emphasized through dialogue, mise en scène, and precise cinematography.
“My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, place in a certain order and projected onto a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.”
— Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer
The 1959 film directed by Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, is a mosaic of human complexity as much as it is a defiance of morality through a character that is uncertain of life. The film is incredibly literary in its executions — being heavily inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment —with a director puppeteering his actors to escape his opinion of superficiality and including a main character that narrates throughout. Relating to my previous post on the auteur theory, Bresson was one of the directors that these theorists actually admired. He has a distinct presentation of his philosophy in his films, making him a quintessential image of an auteur. Pickpocket is no exception.
The Bressonian style emerges with its presentation of lifestyle, specifically one of a person who identifies with the profession of a pickpocket. The image of this specific pickpocket is what Bresson and his cinematographer, Léonce-Henri Burel, present through exceptional camerawork, which consists of tightly framed close-ups that make the viewer pay witness to these crimes. The camera also places no negative opinion on these crimes, being indifferent to these sequences and allowing the audience to create a positive or negative judgement.
This week on “Christian’s Cinematic Syntax,” a new addition to my film journal has emerged through my reflection upon cinematic theory. I have always been interested in theories of cinema and the many aspects that have shaped its history. Consequently, I want to highlight a theory as a way to inform and apply it, within the parameters it created. I want to allow my readers to learn about a piece of cinema history, and appreciate a famed director, Michelangelo Antonioni, through the lens of an auteur theorist. Without further delay, let us explore the nature of the auteur theory.
“That is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of camera-stylo (camera-pen).” — Alexandre Astruc
Background on the theory: The auteur theory is a French film theory in which the director is considered the author (auteur) of their film. Since the theory states that the main authorship of a film is given solely to the director, we see that the theory developed cinema, calling it a reflection of an artist’s vision. The auteur theory differs from others, such as the formalist theory, because of the importance it places on a single creator. The originators of this theory are André Bazin and Roger Leenhardt, who, in the 1940s, founded a film magazine called Cahiers du Cinema, which was vocal about the director’s importance in cinema.
It’s finally October, which will allow me to focus on many genres of film, right? Well, maybe not.
For this month on Christian’s Cinematic Syntax, I will be exploring the horror film and its sub-genres to demonstrate their inner complexities — those of atmosphere, as well as the many different underlying factors that make a horror film truly horrific. In order to do so, it is necessary to establish my thoughts on horror films from different decades and review them. It is also important to say, I will have no pattern to the films I choose. It will be heavily influenced by memory, and films that I am reminded of for spontaneous reasons. And since the Criterion Collection recently upgraded the film Vampyr to Blu-Ray on October 3, it was an obvious first choice.
Vampyr is a film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and was originally released in 1932. At its release, it was barraged with backlash, so much so that it even caused the director to have a nervous breakdown. But as the film moved on through the ages, it emerged as a classic of the time period.
As I am entering Jet Fuel Review as a new film blogger, it felt like an obligation for me to serve as your “Stalker,” and guide you into an unfamiliar terrain. The terrain being the 1979 film, Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The reason for my choice of this film was not only because Andrei Tarkovsky is my favorite filmmaker, but it is that this film is most often considered to be a quintessential contribution to cinematic arts — and for good reason.
This film puts on a display of individual expression in art to its fullest and most fleshed out potential. This is done by using the already published book Roadside Picnic, by Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and through their contribution to Stalker‘s screenplay. Tarkovsky utilizes this book as a way of guidance rather than direct translation, which allows him to manipulate the story to follow his individualized beliefs.
The Godfather, directed by revered filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, is a period drama that realistically depicts the hardships and misfortune associated with the Italian Mafia in the early twentieth century. Coppola’s film tells the fictional story of Vito Corleone and his endeavors as the head of an organized crime family in New York City.
The Godfather allows its audience to become transfixed in the secret, underground dealings of an extremely powerful crime organization that is built upon both trust and fear. However, maintaining this power does not seem to be a simple task, as the Corleone family faces the constant threat of other families who desire their fortune and supremacy. In addition to the film’s well-constructed plot, Coppola remarkably utilizes various film elements in order for the audience to better connect with the characters in an emotional manner. It’s the emotional appeal of The Godfather that makes it one of the greatest films of all time.
In westerns cowboys are usually depicted as symbols of ultimate freedom. In John Huston’s epitaph to the western, 1961’s The Misfits, Clark Gable’s character explains the life of a cowboy as “Well, you start by going to sleep. You get up when you feel like it. You scratch yourself. You fry yourself some eggs. You see what kind of a day it is; throw stones at a can, whistle.”* And this notion of freedom is part what makes Raoul Walsh’s 1947 film Pursued so interesting. Billed as the first ever western-noir, Pursued takes the vastness of the old west and transforms it into a stifling landscape where you can run but you can’t hide.
Pursued stars Robert Mitchum as Jeb Rand, a man haunted by the scattered memories of a traumatic event. The film opens with Jeb hiding out in the dilapidated remains of a weathered ranch. Then through a series of flashbacks Jeb narrates how fate led him to this point. This narrative framing device is often used in noir* as a way to start off the movie by letting the audience know how it’s going to end: badly. It steeps the rest of the film in an ominous dread because no matter how good things look for our characters we know their ultimate and unfortunate fates.