In 2018/19, the 25th edition of le Cinema cent ans de jeunesse, we are looking at ‘la Situation’: the range of dramatic situations that recur in films, how they are shot and edited, and how they position the spectator. At the training event in Paris on 28th and 29th September, 60 teachers, filmmakers, and cultural partners gathered to hear more about the theme, from artistic patron Alain Bergala. Participants came from Finland and Lithuania, Germany and Belgium, Japan, Brazil and Argentina, Italy, Spain and Portugal, Scotland and England, and 30 colleagues from across France.
Bergala set out by looking in detail at two films, rich in ‘situational’ possibilities: Balkonas (Balcony) from Lithuania, about the friendship of two children during the Soviet era, that is nurtured across their next door apartment balconies. And The Lost City of Z, whose narrative is structured around a series of repeating situations of (failed?) exploration in the Amazon jungle.
On the Saturday we looked at collections of themed situations across multiple films, for example, the trope whereby a film opens with a character arriving at an unfamiliar place (think Rebecca, or Edward Scissorhands, Spirited Away, or The Shining); or moments where couples separate at a train station (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Casablanca; L’Avventura; Terminal Station😉 or indeed where characters are waiting for the arrival of someone at a station (Once Upon a Time in West; The Railway Children; High Noon).
We considered situations that recur in a film, but where the tables are turned (Mandy; City Lights; Rio Bravo; Bicycle Thieves); situations of social embarrassment or shame (Boudu Saved from Drowning; Toni Erdmann; Bicycle Thieves; Imitation of Life; I Was Born But..); situations that pivot on a sudden twist (La Femme du Cote); and a whole sub-genre of scenes around billiard tables (Three Times; Vivre sa Vie; A Place in the Sun).
Bergala encouraged us to think about the difference between a motif, which is ‘descriptive’ (someone walking along a country lane in spring), and a ‘situation’, in which tension, drama, or change is introduced (someone walking along a country lane in Spring encounters a character mending a punctured bicycle tyre). What is so fascinating is the number of examples of particular recurring situations: the number of couples who separate tragically at train stations, or who flirt around billiard tables; or the number of fights that start in saloon bars.