127 Hours (2010)

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Loving Is an Art

IMG_4191-1I recently returned from France. It was quite the trip, I fell in love with the  honey, lavender, thyme, the olive trees that opened up in a nest to suck in the sunshine, they played clever tricks on your perception those olive trees. I will miss the way they felt the most. I will return to them. I fell in love with the tisane, the way my name sounded with a French accent. I fell in love with the Forteresse de Mornas, the mountain of Mornas and the fig tree that once grew there and saved a papal knight’s life once long ago. I fell in love with the idea of Bretagne. With Manon. With Gillian. The legionnaires. 

I fell in love with Cinema Utopia, and the jardin of Morières-lès-Avignon. The windows of Lyon. The little girl with the wide open eyes transfixed by the lights of the turning carousel, Holden Caulfield would have appreciated that sight.   The painter who lived in her daughters’ field without electricity but had a flatscreen TV. With Wendy even, who sang  a Taylor Swift song in the bathroom, and did not eat stale bread. The architectural promenade. I fell in love with Sylvie, I still carry her with me. And Almut. I fell in love with  topinambourg, tapenade, coin pate, le transformation and Isidora, the little trouble-maker of a cat who night, morning, afternoon was up to something. And the cat lady I loved her too although I was not able to express it. And the hostel owner I loved him too although I was not able to express it.

Loving Is an art just like Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well.

(Sylvia Plath)

Tootsie

 

Just finished watching it…I wasn’t sure what to expect! At times, the film dragged too long and some of the jokes fell completely flat! Dustin Hoffman is captivating in the lead role, a delightful actor, I was rooting for Sandy to win over his heart, so was slightly disappointed in the end and I thought their relationship could have been fleshed out more. The parallel plots between the protagonists (Julie and Ron/Sandy and Michael) was very clever, at times the same dialogue would repeat in a different context :

Look, I never promised Julie I'd be
exclusive and not see other women.

But I know she doesn't want
me to see them...

...so I lie to her
to keep from hurting her.

while undermining a moral message! It’d be interesting to seriously think about the gender politics portrayed in the movie, but I guess one’s gotta take comedies with a grain of salt! They are comedies for a reason after all!

The Artifice of Cinema: Visconti’s Senso

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Luchino Visconti’s Senso (1954) is a historical melodrama based on the titular novel by Camillo Boito. The film recounts the tragic affair between the Italian aristocrat Countess Livia Serpieri and the Austrian officer, Lieutenant Franz Mahler. Set in 1866 during the “Risorgimento” movement when Venice was under Austrian occupation, the film opens with a pivotal scene from Verdi’s opera Il Travatore as supporters of unification shouting the patriotic “Viva Verdi” throw tri-colored confetti of the Italian flag. At the first meeting with Mahler, Serpieri tells him that she is not fond of melodrama offstage and cannot contend with people who act melodramatically and impulsively without considering the consequences of their actions. As the narrative unfolds, however, Countess Serpieri contradicting herself, acts impulsively for the sake of her obsessive passion for Franz at the cost of her dignity and the Italian nationalist cause. She uses money destined for the Italian resistance to fund her lover’s exemption from the army. The most melodramatic episode occurs when Franz in drunken lucidity alongside a young prostitute reveals to her that he is not her romantic hero, and she in a dismal state orders his execution, only to painfully regret it the moment it happens.

The tragic passion of Livia and Franz is embedded in a long tradition of aristocratic conventions of “courtly love” (Marcus, 176). The delusional Livia is reduced to a type mindlessly playing the role of a woman so absorbed by her lover that she abandons everything. Her character alludes to the protagonist of Tolstoy’s infamous heroine Anna Karenina. The relationship between Visconti’s characters is predetermined by formulaic conventions that characterize this literary tradition. For instance, Millicent Marcus elucidates the role of Livia’s maid within a “line of officious but efficient ladies’ maids, from the Duenna in The Romance of Rose to Juliet Capulet’s Nurse, and she seems to have assimilated all the practical wisdom of her literary predecessors ” (Marcus, 176). Furthermore, when Franz sneaks into Livia’s villa and convinces her to allow him to stay the night, Visconti in a climactic scene accentuated by the melodramatic sounds of Anton Buckner frames Countess Serpieri and Lieutenant Mahler in a reenactment of Francesco Hayez’s Il Bacio (1859).  By using Hayez, a quintessential Romantic painter, Visconti firmly roots his characters in the cliché of passionate and idealized love. Interestingly enough, this painting has also been linked to the promotion of Risorgimento. In an ironic twist, Visconti replicates the painting with characters that are completely disinterested in the cause, hinting at a critique of the mainstream history of unification.

The theatrical and ornate mise-en-scène of the scene full of splendor, spectacle and illusions of reality in the forms of mirrors offers the perfect backdrop for a film that comments on the deception of appearances and the nature of historical truth.   The elaborate mise-en-scène essentially becomes an allegory of the propagandistic perception surrounding Risorgimento. Visconti’s supposedly melodramatic protagonists as reflected in their highly stylized acting and the high-angle camera placement are far from the righteous and noble heroes of Verdi’s idealized opera. Similarly, the propagandistic and romanticized history of Risorgimento as “popular movement “ is subverted to the economical practicality of  “royal conquest”  (Marcus, 176).  In Senso, Visconti offers a Gramscian perspective on Risorgimento as an incomplete and “passive revolution” (Marcus, 173) motivated by economic and political interests rather than the ideological fervor.  The character of Count Serpieri embodies this concern with self-interest rather than ideals. He is initially supporting the Austrians, but switches sides once it becomes clear that Italy will attain victory.  Furthermore, Visconti’s strategic choice to focus on the Italian defeat at Custoza and his portrayal of the Italian officer dismissing the assistance of volunteer forces illustrates the passivity of Risorgimento.

Further analysis of the pivotal scene at the villa reveals that the strong chiaroscuro lighting effects and the striking bird’s eye view camera placement not only emulate a theatrical stage, but also symbolize the illusory nature of Livia’s amour fou.  The décor on Livia’s boudoir is intricately dressed with mirrors that show Franz’s reflection. Livia never sees her reflection in the mirror (and this happens throughout the film), she is instead framed with her back against a mirror or with her eyes fixed on Franz such as during their love meeting in the rented apartment. In juxtaposition, Franz is repeatedly depicted gazing at himself intently in this particular scene, and constantly framed in the vicinity of mirrors.  Such a distinction could be interpreted to showcase Franz’s narcissistic traits, however it also alludes to Franz’s lucidity and Livia’s delusion. Most importantly, Livia’s inability to look at a mirror is an allegory for that segment of the Italian population she represented that remained to be deceived believing that Risorgimento was indeed a heroic triumph and “popular movement” (Marcus, 173). Therefore, when Franz unveils Livia, he urges her to see reality. Seen in this sense, Visconti’s Senso unveils Risorgimento, attacking the distorted and biased reflection of it in popular propaganda.

That being said though, Visconti understands the nature of historiographies too deeply to posit one definite perspective on Risorgimento. He critically engages with his viewers, prompting them to question each and every text. Senso begins with an opera performance on a stage, “a spectacle within a spectacle” (Marcus, 175). The opening scene is framed with vibrant theatre curtains atop a row of stage lights. The camera slowly zooms closer to the actors on the stage, so that momentarily they can be described as the characters of the film. The camera does not linger for too long and in a swift motion follows one of the actors screen right focusing on the audience. The camera, then turns into an exploratory eye, moving in multiple directions and deconstructing the space from a multitude of angles. This self-reflexive use of camera is indeed very obtrusive and seems to diverge from the neorealist tradition.

His allusion to the art of art-making in this scene can be seen throughout Senso in the striking camera use, the highly stylized acting, chiaroscuro effects and the artificial quality of the theatrical lighting. In addition, the exaggerated costume designs for Livia, especially her suffocating black gown, and meticulous décor of the mise-en-scène draw the viewer’s attention to artifice. As discussed above, Visconti’s preoccupation with mirrors and reflections intimates the art of seeing, perception and reality.  His portrayal of Senso as a constructed ideological text akin to the Romantic literary tradition parallels his treatment of Risorgimento as a history that could be falsely represented. Therefore, paradoxically Visconti’s neorealism stems from this artifice by drawing our attention to cinema itself—the ultimate illusion masquerading as the real.