5×2 (2004) – The Space around Love

Characterisation is a funny thing. Characters obviously have no inner lives and no existence beyond the indentations they leave on a text and yet a well-drawn character can seem human enough to warrant an emotional response from the audience. Characterisation works by tapping into the various short-cuts humans use in social interaction; As humans, we can never know what another person is thinking or feeling but we can infer their emotional state by considering their behaviour and comparing it to what feelings we think might prompt us to act in a similar fashion. Characterisation can thus be thought of as the art of building an evocative human shape from a series of descriptive passages. Strike the right poses at the right moments and a character will leap off the page but fail to make a character’s poses recognisable or fail to make those poses coherent and you will be left with a character that seems lifeless and inhuman.

Different cinematic traditions have different standards of characterisation. For example, travel back to 1930s Hollywood and it was still quite common for directors to use voice-overs and have their characters tell the audience what they were thinking. Fast-forward to contemporary Hollywood blockbusters and you find directors relying quite heavily on audience-recognisable character types whose inner lives are made accessible through a combination of unambiguous musical cues and absurd theatrical gestures including sinking to their knees and bellowing ‘Nooo’ into a rain-filled sky. Thankfully, not all cinematic traditions are as heavy-handed; Cinema originating in cultures with low-levels of emotional disclosure is far more subtle in its emotional topography and so audiences are forced to pay closer attention and approach scenes in different ways in order to catch the poses that might allow them to infer the presence of an internal state or collective vibe. The subtlety of character beats in Japanese film also explains its long-standing relationship with a European art house tradition in which directors seek to deliberately attenuate their characterisation in a bid to create characters that seem more complex and ambiguous. However, despite European film’s desire to keep its characters aloof, the last fifty years have still seen the emergence of not just stock characters but stock poses that serve as short-cuts in films that should not be about the easy answers. How many times have you seen art house films in which characters stare into the middle-distance impassively? How many times have you seen art house films in which a character fails to react to some devastating event and yet winds up over-reacting to some seemingly unrelated incident? As a general rule of thumb, if you are an art house director and your characterisation techniques are showing up on Mad Men then it is time to get yourself some new techniques… which is where François Ozon’s 5×2 comes in.

 

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REVIEW – Weekend (2011)

FilmJuice have my review of Andrew Haigh’s relationship drama Weekend.

The film tells the story of two gay men who meet in a club and spend the night together. Upon waking, Glenn (Chris New) sticks a tape recorder under Russell’s (Tom Cullen) nose and asks him to give detailed feedback about the sex and the way the pair met. Horrified by Glenn’s frankness and yet compelled to accede to his request out of affection and desire, Russell begins to talk and when Russell begins to talk the one night stand slowly begins to transform into a relationship. Weekend is the story of how two very different people strive to overcome their differences in order to find enough common ground to exist as a couple:

It seems faintly absurd that, in this day and age, we should feel obliged to make the case for why it is that more straight people should watch gay films. Many fans of gay independent film will stress the educational benefits of watching a film about people unlike yourself but this makes it all sound a little bit too much like homework. People should not seek out Andrew Haigh’s Weekend because they feel obliged to be supportive of minority filmmaking or because they want to see something a bit different and exotic. The case for watching Haigh’s Weekend is the same for watching any great film: Watch it because it will help you to better understand yourself. In fact, Weekend is the single most grown-up film about human relationships that you will see this year and that is true regardless of who you are and how you live your life.

Needless to say, I adored this film and recommend it to anyone and everyone who happens upon this blog post. So many films deal in relationships and bndy about words like ‘love’, ‘desire’ and ‘loneliness’ but few actually address what those words actually mean. Weekend is one of those films.