Showing and not showing

In the last London Nautical session before Christmas, we looked at the sequences from Coppola’s Tetro as recommended by the Cinematheque team at the training days in September.  The first half of Tetro revolves around 9 scenes shot in the same apartment.  It’s essentially a great introduction to how a director uses the same space for different situations: tension, awkwardness, maternal affection, resentment, aggression are all played out between characters Benny, his long-lost older brother Tetro, and Tetro’s partner Miranda.

Watching the first couple of scenes with the boys, they raised a question: how much of the mise en scene in a shot can we know has been deliberately designed?  The apartment scenes are very stagey: a carefully placed mirror, artfully angled shots, light from seemingly all directions; but for less experienced film scholars it’s sometimes hard to believe that every position and angle is deliberately and often painstakingly chosen.

But there was a question beyond this: how do film-makers (or maybe artists in general) achieve the effect of their work looking ‘natural’, while also being so deliberately controlled?  Was it Daniel or Adii who ventured that a film-maker has to unconsciously do this, to be unconsciously conscious of what they’re doing, or as he put it ‘showing us and not showing us at the same time.’  ‘A paradox’, is what someone else (Barnaby?) called it..  In terms of the LCI’s 10 Capacities for Imaginative Learning, this is ‘living with ambiguity’.

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