Thursday, January 26, 2017

Strut & Fret Your Hour Upon the Stage

In the first act of a well-made horror film - or hell, even in a shittily-made horror film, only more ploddingly so - the camera will always pan to The Tell, or more likely plural The Tells, aka the stuff that will become important later on in the movie when we are fighting war with The Killer. 

For some reason the first example that came to mind was Claire working in her great big glass greenhouse in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (maybe because I'd love to be watching The Hand That Rocks the Cradle right now) -- the location and its glassy glass-ness is established so when it comes raining down on Julianne Moore later on we're not confused, like, "Why oh why is the sky raining glass on Julianne Moore? She won an Oscar! Finally, anyway, after way too long of a wait. What a world!!! Glass on her!"

Another example - Claire has her asthma. God they love pushing her asthma in that movie. Inhalers are practically side-billed with Ernie Hudson in that movie. So when Peyton steals Claire's inhaler you're all - "The Asthma! Riiiiight." (Sidenote: I clearly have really got to watch The Hand That Rocks the Cradle soon.) 

These are the bombs under the table that Alfred Hitchcock talked about in his interview with Francois Truffaut - the movie will show you a gun (or, you know, a bomb under a table) in the first act so the audience is sitting there the whole movie thinking, at the very least in the back of their head while they're mostly distracted by all the movie stars being sexy meanwhile, "When is that gun (or bomb) gonna reappear anyway?" And then bang bang! And we laugh and have a good time and go home and eat and go to bed, living life and taking names.

People play with these Tells, of course - Hitch mastered 'em so much that he'd introduce them (think of the money in Psycho) as a sleight of hand to yank out from under us later. When Marion gets murdered in Psycho he slowly pans away from her dead body to the money sitting there and we're all, "Wait a second! The movie spent all this time setting up the money! What about the cockadoodie money???" And then Anthony Perkins comes in and tosses the money in the car trunk and sinks it into the muck because the money didn't mean a gosh darn thing - what mattered was we were thinking about the money while darker machinations were at work.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is proving himself a master of these dark machinations. We watch his characters swat aside and ignore all of The Tells - the signs that Shit Ain't Right and It Ain't Getting Righter. His movies (see also About Elly and A Separation and The Past - no seriously you need to see all of these movies if you have not, immediately) are unbearably tense because his camera shows us what his characters cannot, or refuse to, see, and his camera says "Awwww hell no."

Usually his Tells are more of the emotional or political sort than the physical, the practical - like instead of an asthma inhaler Farhadi has in its place Smothering Religious Extremism, or whatever. But the effect is the same. We can't catch our breath!

Farhadi's new brilliant nightmare of a film The Salesman actually uses more of the practical physical signifiers than I remember his earlier movies using - here in The Salesman when Rana and Emad, the married couple at the center of the film, move into a new apartment it's because their previous one literally crumbled apart around them, the foundation giving way and enormous cracks shattering the plaster walls and glass windows. (Strangely this was the same kind of thematic intrusion into the real world that ruptured the other Iranian movie I have seen in the past year, the very fine horror flick Under the Shadow.)

Anyway that doesn't bode well for our couple. And later on when a climactic scene is set in the ruins of the old apartment, lined with cracks, well, you'd be forgiven for thinking of Julianne Moore at that moment. But there are lots of other prop and set based signals to Rana and Emad that they need to open their damn eyes and see the psychological serial killer stalking their peace -- there's the locked room full of the previous tenant's belongings, there's the bathroom light bursting in its socket all of a sudden, there's the actress having an outburst because her red raincoat (forced onto her by censors) is making a mockery of her hard work.

All of these external forces bear down upon us, one after the other, until we're suffocating - we're splayed out next to Julianne Moore's bloodied serious business lady haircut, out of air and flailing irrevocably as the nanny smirks in her own cold comfort; we're a strange man pawing at his coat pocket for heart pills in a crumbling stairwell. We are a marriage set on fire by circumstances, cruel and unusual and made monstrously, claustrophobically inevitable by every single force working upon and within us, a house of cards perched on a stage table with a a great big stack of dynamite strapped underneath.


Dougie said...

Who is that bearded hottie in the movie, the one in the first pic up top?

Jason Adams said...

His name is Shahab Hosseini, Dougie, and I almost did a post about just hm and his cuteness last week! I should get on that.