Bergala’s theories on mise-en-scène

Bergala (AB) has given us some 30 pages of French text with extracts from articles on staging. Here are a few translated sections from one of his own texts (“Election, attaque, disposition” in L’hypothèse-cinema, Cahier du Cinema, 2002)

AB quotes Leonardo Da Vinci when he says that painting – one of the most concrete of the arts – is primarily a “cosa mentale” or a ‘thing of the mind’. Before interacting with the real and becoming a series of concrete operations, the creative act in film is also a thing of the mind for which there are 3 interdependent cognitive activities: choosing (élire), positioning (disposer) and shooting (attaquer).

AB claims there are potentially two sorts of film makers: those for whom camera positioning and découpage is subordinate to the arrangement and movement of the actors in space (découpage has no equivalent in English but refers to film construction – the final script complete with practical and technical information, shots and sequences – as well as being a term to describe the overall finished structure of the film which may well have deviated from the original structure). This first type of film maker adopts an approach more in line with theatre direction.

The 2nd sort of film maker decides first on shooting strategy with consideration given to framing and camera position. Actors and other elements will be arranged in relation to an already established list of shots. For both types of film maker there is always a creative tension between the concrete artistry of staging the shot and the urge to shoot it. Attending to this dialectic by constantly adjusting the  disposition results in shots which are resonant and vibrant; sloppy shots constructed without this level of attention risk losing impact. He introduces the notion of a tight mesh that wraps itself around each shot, if the mesh is too loose, it loses intensity and life. The success of a point of view shot depends largely on the maintenance of the dialectic between disposition and attaque.

What makes the specificity, the difficulty and the excitement of film making is down to the quality of thought that precedes more concrete operations. Cinematographic choices are never arbitrary, as if plucked from some intellectual air, they are in constant negotiation with the material at hand. Through processes of trial and error, reviewing and experimentation a balance is eventually struck which remains true to the original vision “par la belle ‘force des choses’ “, or out of beautiful necessity.

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