On SMALL GESTURES
By Cristina Álvarez López
Published in [in]Transition, 1.3, 2014
Extract below from Cristina Álvarez López, ‘From Idea to Concept’, [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, 1.3, September 2014. Online at: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/intransition/
[The above] audiovisual essay is devoted to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le silence de la mer (1949), a chamber piece which fascinates me – as well as an extraordinary and too little known directorial debut. Here, I wanted to focus on its subterranean love story, never directly or openly addressed, but conveyed through small gestures (mainly of the actors, but also of the camera and mise en scène). That is, ultimately, where the concept of the piece would lie – but I had to find my way there by steps.
I knew beforehand some of the fragments I wanted to use in the piece, because I had already written about the film (Álvarez López 2013) and even extracted some clips to accompany that text. However, I then re-watched Le silence de la mer several times, annotating the timings, trying to be as exhaustive as possible. I was amazed to discover how much of the film’s material could indeed be used to work through my idea. To search for all these ‘small gestures’, make clips of them, name them and catalogue them, took me a couple of days. When I began on these operations, all I had was an idea but not yet a concept for my audiovisual essay. Since this driving idea was mainly visual, I was a little worried about the sonic elements — about the jarring effect that could result from putting all this material together (most of these fragments were very short; in some of them we hear ambient noises or silence, in others little scraps of music and dialogue that did not form any complete or coherent phrase).
But, while collecting the clips, I had a more concrete notion about a possible structure for the piece. I realised that I could use one of the monologues recited by Howard Vernon in the film, where he tells the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In a way, this tale mirrors, condenses and prefigures the love story between him and the female character in Le silence de la mer. Of course, this monologue is itself also a ‘small gesture’, and one that allowed me to emphasise the power of speech and its crucial role in the bizarre courtship ritual set in motion by the man. There was yet another reason that pushed me to use this monologue: at a given moment, in order to describe the recognition of love from Beauty toward the Beast, the character uses the following expression: “… and she gave him her hand”. As soon as I heard this sentence, I felt compelled to match it with the image that I wanted to use to close my audiovisual essay: a shot that shows a detail (the drawing of two hands extended toward — but yet not reaching — each other) on the female’s character shawl, which was designed by Melville himself.
Listening over and over to this fabulous passage of speech (which, in the original film, is even longer), I realised I could break it into two, distinct segments: the first, devoted to presenting the characters and the coordinates of their master-slave relation; the second, much shorter, devoted to describing the turn in Beauty’s feelings. Between these two parts, I introduced a central section (using dialogue and sounds from other scenes) dedicated to moments of turbulence and confusion — moments that begin to signal the transformation of the woman’s emotions (mainly through hand gestures), but only in an unconscious, not-yet-recognised way.
So, finally, the element that was less developed in my mind when I started to think about this audiovisual essay — namely, the sound — ended up providing the global structure for the piece, working as a narrative frame according to which I began to organise the entire, visual aspect. In the first section, I tried to find a way to express — through the actors’ poses and postures, through the distances and angles of the camera, through occasional movement and repetition — the parameters of the captivity situation evoked in the monologue, as well as the subtle ‘binomial pair’ of the characters’ personalities. In the central part, I gave particular importance to the hand gestures that play a prominent role in the film, signalling the trouble, confusion and disturbance of the characters’ feelings. And, in the final section, again picking up the monologue that now bursts forth while describing Beauty’s acknowledgment of love, I concentrate almost exclusively on the ardent gestures of the camera (extreme close-ups, inquisitive reframings) and of the woman (smiles, glances).
READ THIS ESSAY IN FULL HERE
Edited by Catherine Grant
© Cristina Álvarez López, September 2014.
Cristina Álvarez López, ‘From Idea to Concept [Extract]’, The Audiovisual Essay: Practice and Theory of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, September, 2014. Online at: https://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/audiovisualessay/reflections/intransition-1-3/cristina-alvarez-lopez/
Cristina Álvarez López is the co-editor and co-founder of the Spanish online film journal Transit: Cine y otros desvíos, and co-curator of the section on audiovisual essays at NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies. Her critical writing and audiovisual essays have appeared, over the past six years, in the following international publications: Transit, LOLA, Trafic, Caimán: Cuadernos de cine, MUBI Notebook, Screening the Past, De Filmkrant, Frames, Shangri-la, Contrapicado, Gobshite Quarterly, Lumière, Blogs & Docs, La Furia Umana and Desistfilm. She has translated numerous critical and theoretical texts on film. She also has written chapters for the following books: Chantal Akerman, Paul Schrader: El cineasta frente a los tiempos, Max Ophüls: Carné de baile, Philippe Garrel. With Adrian Martin, she co-organised the conference The Audiovisual Essay: Theory and Practice (November 2013), and co-teaches a course on audiovisual essays at Goethe University, Frankfurt.
- Álvarez López, Cristina. “El silencio del mar: La palabra”, Transit, 10 December 2013. Online at: http://cinentransit.com/el-silencio-del-mar/.
- Álvarez López, Cristina and Martin, Adrian, ‘The One and the Many: Making Sense of Montage in the Audiovisual Essay’, The Audiovisual Essay: Practice and Theory of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, September, 2014. Online at: https://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/audiovisualessay/frankfurt-papers/cristina-alvarez-lopez-adrian-martin/