Against a certain sequenceshotendency in Loznitsa´s cinema.

By Fernando Ganzo

(leer en castellano)

BONUS: The fourth partisan (vodka and potatoes).

This film is adapted from a novel by the great Belarus writer Vasil Bykaû, whose The Ascent was adapted to the screen in 1976 by Larisa Shepitko. The setting is the Soviet Union under the Germans. A partisan walks into a house and finds the man he came looking for. He wants to take him away and kill him, because he was the only surviving member of a group of four partisans who were hanged for the sabotage of the train tracks; the Germans simply left him go. A long sequence shot of a conversation between them follows. In it, the “traitor´s” wife leaves the table (and the frame) to get some baked potatoes, and the traitor leaves the table as well to get vodka. The camera “answers” to those movements by changing the focus plane during the take (one of the characters going soft while the other becomes the primary focus), thus creating a new shot within the take depending on which ground is sharp. In other words: a filmmaker looking at the world.

MALUS: the character is not a donkey.

The beginning of the film: the hanging scene. We follow the partisans from behind on their way to the gallows. In order not to show the hanging (and avoiding cutting) the camera must look elsewhere: the mother of one of the partisans falls to her knees in front of her son and a German soldier kicks her away. The camera follows her movement as she falls over the “audience” of the hanging, then follows a German soldier on horseback until we see the carcass of a dead horse and we hear the sound of the trap door swinging open. In his aim to avoid cutting (and creating new shots within the take as I described before), the filmmaker introduces a new, fleeting, character: the mother of the partisan whose face will remain unseen. (Mr. Loznitsa himself confirmed, in a master class in Wiesbaden, that the character of the mother is there just to guide the camera).

Another example: a flashback of the traitor that proofs he is not. The Germans let him go; much to his regret, for everybody will think he is a traitor. The camera follows him from behind as he leaves the Nazi camp. We only see his back, and through the composition he is identified with a donkey “pulling” the camera. In a previous shot the characters were pulling a handle cart through the train tracks as we see them full-face; thus they were not “pulling” the camera, but rather “pushing” it. We could also argue that the camera is like a donkey that follows him as if he was a carrot. In any case: Festival cinema as corral cinema. We keep following the character and seeing nothing but his back until he is forced to stop in front of the hanged men, thus generating a new take: the vision of the source of his shame.

By not resorting to the editing to avoid showing the hanging, we hardly see a fake new character, that of the mother; fake for she is nobody´s mother, since the partisan doesn´t even exists himself: he is just a donkey pulling from the camera until she finds a relay. And since they don´t even show that to the character through the cutting, we are left without seeing much, or watching an absurd body that, one way or the other, it is nothing but a nuisance: either he moves over or we will not be able to see the hanged partisans; which was, after all, what Mr. Loznitsa wanted to show us.

EXTRA: Altitude is nobody´s gain; quite on the contrary: is very much to their disadvantage, the both of them. What happens is that it is more so for some.

Humour, in Ben Wheatley´s Sightseers, comes from a crossroad. 1st. If we accept the outlook of a slasher film as if it was that of a standard romantic comedy, it not longer becomes scary but funny, because from within the couple the situation is perfectly understandable. 2nd. If we do the opposite and we place a psycho killer in a romantic comedy, we might destroy the film. As it always happens in a good romantic comedy, she is the one who is always capable of understanding. But understanding a psychopath can be tricky business; and it might even destroy the entire idea of a couple. The best jokes in this film come from that endless crossroads—and let me just say that Edgar Wright is the producer, so you will know what I´m talking about. Obviously, when two roads cross they leave a vacant space between them; the problem that this type of films don´t solve is (and this case is no exception): how do you fill that space?

Translated from Spanish by Hugo Obregón

Official Selection
RUSSIA, LATVIA. 2012. 127’
Director: Sergei Loznitsa.
Script: Sergei Loznitsa (from the novel by Vasil Bykaŭ).
Cinematography: Oleg Mutu.
Editing: Danielius Kokanauskis.
Sound: Vladimir Golovnitsky.
Casting: Vladimir Svirskiy, Vladislav Abashin,
Sergei Kolesov, Nikita Peremotovs, Yulia Peresild.

Quinzaine des réalisateurs. Special Screenings
UK. 2012. 89’
Director: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump.
Script: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram.
Cinematography: Laurie Rose.
Editing: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley, Robin Hill.
Sound: Martin Pavey.
Music: Jim Williams.
Casting: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram.