Monday, 28 February 2011

Film Review: Conveying Reality

Varying artistic approaches affect audiences differently. As with art, films can confront the viewer or draw them in. Jean-Luc Godard’s Une Femme Est Une Femme and Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen deal with real-life tragedy. While Godard’s cinematic techniques distance the film from reality, Vinterberg aims to imitate it, provoking contrasting responses.
As well as playing with cinematic technique to remind the audience of this false illusion of time and space, in Une Femme est une Femme Goddard goes even further. The most significant break from reality is that the characters directly address the audience, breaking down what is known in theatre as The Fourth Wall.
The common acceptance of this barrier between the audience and the actors allows the audience to feel like distant observers. In The Glass Menagerie[1], directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, one of the characters talks to the audience, introducing the characters and the on-set musicians. Such audience interaction made the audience feel more included. This is heightened due to theatre being live. At the cinema a physical wall exists via the screen and the action is reduced to 2D, our eyes directed by the camera.
As well as making the audience more aware, interaction in Une Femme Est Une Femme also makes the characters responsive and they seem to act up to the camera rather than, as in Festen, ignoring it. The emotions that the protagonist is going through seem hammed-up and over-acted which can result in a lack of empathy towards the protagonist. As was commented on a forum website, Godard often avoids the traditional “three-quarters profile shot common in classical 'continuity-style' filmmaking - as well as traditional portraiture - which both cues represented depth and prevents the actor from looking directly at the camera, there-by  preserving the imaginary 'fourth wall' of the screen”[2]. The effect is similarly demanding in paintings by Chantal Joffe whose figures often stare out from the canvas to confront the viewer[3].

Vinterberg’s Festen is in complete contrast in both style and intent. He uses, argue some critics, “the [Dogme95] rules to make their subject matter more accessible to an audience” [4]. Intimacy in his film is created in a voyeuristic way. The hand-held camera closely follows the characters giving “a feeling of direct involvement in the whirlwind of emotions”[5]. The audience are looking in on the action, given an unnerving insight into the drama, rather like Eric Fischl’s voyeuristic paintings of disturbing narrative scenes.
Tim van der Heijden writes that according to Dogme “Instead of representing a truthful reality, the dominant film creates a technology aided illusion in which the plots are superficial and predictable.”[6] The absence of dramatic background music in Festen is unusual yet effective. The moments when only panicky breathing can be heard increase the tension and believability.
However, Godard does not seek to fool the audience either. Jeffrey Harrison and Amy Mashburn include Godard in the French New Wave of the 1950’s, during which directors violated filmmaking conventions, making the “style itself the focus of a film”[7]. Such intentions echo the Abstract Expressionist action painters such as Jackson Pollock, for whom the paint itself was the subject matter.

Godard’s use of editing awakens the audience. Chopping between silence, melodramatic music and sound, Godard “refuses to let us go into autopilot”[8]. The audience becomes more critical and observant, questioning whether the score is suitable for the uneventful scene.
The jumpy style of Une Femme Est Une Femme serves as a reminder of the material while Festen is closer to a replica of real life that focuses on the characters. Within film, detachment from reality can result in a detachment of emotions rather than sucking the audience in.

[1] The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic Theatre. 11 November – 15 January 2011
[2] Yacavone, Daniel. Jean-Luc Godard and Roy Lichtenstein: Originality, Reflexivity, and the Re-Presented Image
[3] Joffe, Chantal. Scarlet. 30 by 60cm. Shown at Frieze Art Fair. Visited on 15 October 2010
[4]+6 University of the Arts London. Film Programme January - February 2011. Week 7: Festen (Celebration)

[6] Van der Heijden, Tim. Between Illusion and reality: The liberations and limitations of Dogme95. Page 2
[7] L.Harrison, Jeffrey and R. Mashburn, Amy. Essay:Jean Luc Godard and critical legal studies(because we need the eggs). Vol. 87, No. 7 (Jun., 1989), pp. 1924-1944. Michigan Law Review © 1989[7]
[8] Lacker, Ben Godard’s Ironic Erotics in Une Femme Est Une Femme. Page 212

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