Fargo. Sunshine. A Simple Plan.
Movies where light washes out landscapes, cuts into frames, destroys people’s comfort, sinks characters into semiotic wastelands.
Sure, film blanc isn’t a genre that anybody has yet purposefully tried to make, but then again, neither was film noir.
So, mainstream choices of the above aside, what is there in the cinema of light, not just movies that capture light (because that’s what they all do) but make light itself a character confronting and even antagonizing the characters themselves? What are the over-exposed thrillers that sink characters into the light instead of the night?
Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia
Insomnia was another one I was thinking of, but forgot to mention.
There’s also a French film I have to track down the name of where the lead literally falls into a hole in the Alps and disappears, right before the film ends. The entire film is brightly lit, even at night, and seems to lead to an increased blank slate until even our relationship to the character disappears in the end.
Perhaps L’Eclisse could be another way of looking at the same.
@McBean: explain. I’ven’t seen it myself, but it seems an odd choice based on what I’ve read from the book.
Polaris – Much of Catch 22 is in the desert, with a really harsh sunlight which seems to bleach everything out a lot of the time. I seem to remember some white light dissolves too, especially when Yossarian is injured. Not sure if this is what you meant.
I’d also say George Lucas’s THX1138 because so much of the film is set against a pure white background.
Kanchenjungha, the 1962 film by Satyajit Ray. Here the mountain Kanchenjungha plays as the backdrop of the movie, nay it becomes a character itself. A Bengali family consisting a feudal father (who is much decorated by the colonial lords and still suffers from a colonial hangover in independent India) visits the hill station Darjeeling with his large ‘undivided’ family consisting of his brother, son, daughter, daughter in law and ailing wife. Each of these people have a problem of their own. In the beginning the mountain is shrouded by fog. But as the film progresses, light is shed on each character and their inter personal relationship, and slowly the fog clears. At the end, the feudal lord’s daughter falls for a middle class non elite jobless boy who basically comes to Darjeeling to meet the father to secure his recommendation for a job (but eventually declines when the feudal lord actually offers him one, in a moment of inspired youth). As the feudal lord watches his kingdom crumble around him, the fog clears completely and one can see the majestic Kanchenjungha-shining in its glory.
In this movie light not only plays the physical part that light does play in a movie, it becomes synonymous with the divine light under which all men are equal. Ray, the master, uses the light like a surgeon to dissect and integrate. We have one of the greatest movies ever.
From Argento’s Tenebrae
McBean — How could I have forgotten about THX 1138!
The use of the desert described seems to make sense. Desert scenes and Westerns is a little different because the landscape actually is that harsh and the sunlight actually is a problem, but certainly more thriller or “darker” mooded Westerns set themselves up well for use of film blanc.
Great stills from Tenebre. I’ve wanted to see it but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
How about Sergio Corbucci’s Il Grande Silenzio as a grim spaghetti western in the snow?
It sounds like maybe you have two different things going here with your film blanc. One is films in the snow or desert where cold or heat and drought are part of the discomfort. The other is films that are bright and desaturated for no reason that comes from the environment.
The cold or heat only counts, in my opinion, as film blanc if the cold or heat itself stylistically cuts into the composition, that is to say, not that there’s a scene where a person is walking in the snow, but that the landscape itself is symbolic of the character falling into emptiness.
In Sunshine, the power and nature of light itself drives out the monsters in the people as their steady approach to the sun washes out their certainty.
In A Simple Plan, the bright wasteland casts a luminance that cuts off these characters from the real world and causes them to destroy themselves.
In Insomnia, the light drives a man mad.
In THX 1138, the complete lack of depth and signifiers washes away people’s abilities to grasp on to individuality, and the ultimate prison is a completely white space, until the main character manages to free himself into the colors of the sunset.
Maybe even Punch Drunk Love counts, as rays of light and flashes of sunbursts cut through the frame and upset the balance of the character.
Where film noir is the play of shadows and the thrill of sinking into a pitch black, film blanc is the thriller version of being subsumed and subconsciously burned by light.
Maybe Gerry by Gus Van Sant, The Wind by Victor Sjostrom, Monte Hellman’s Ride in the Whirlwind for the impact of the nature with the wind on the men, and some Tarkovski’s, Fellini’s and Teo Angelopoulos movies full of smog.
What about Jodorowsky’s El topo, could that be considered Film blanc?
Lawrence of Arabia?
3 Women ?
or Gertrud? I kept thinking that film everytime I hear White.
Two scenes in The Seventh Seal come to mind. When the thief dies of plague in the forest, behind the fallen tree, with the whole troop watching, the scene slowly and dramatically brightens. Later, when the troop is in Antonius’ castle, fearing death, a beam of light creeps in through the window, and there is a ghostly knock on the door. I suppose this light represents the presence or touch of God.
I see Blanc as the antithesis to Noir. Not dirty and cynical but clean and optimistic.
There’s many scenes in Werckmiester Harmonies that come to mind, though that film makes great use of darkness as well. It’s truly a ‘black and white’ film.
Wouldn’t that be a grey film? o.o
yes quite possibly…
what’s the french word for grey? le grue?
Traffic…well just the parts in mexico
No, a film that makes exceptional use of both a lot of light and of darkness would certainly not be ‘grey’. Maybe striped? Checkerboard? Certainly something with contrast.
The Cleveland scenes in Stranger Than Paradise!
TETRO. holy shit what a good movie. “dont look into the light!”
“Not dirty and cynical but clean and optimistic.”
That’s children’s films and most classic musicals.
Light itself as anxiety, threatening to flood and distort reality while burning the cortext senseless. 3 Women is actually a good one. Among many other scenes, a stand-out one is when Spacek and Duvall are driving and Spacek, who plays a strange and disturbing presence in Duvall’s life in the first place, is half overexposed by the sunlight from the window and half underexposed in shadow while Duvall is evenly exposed correctly to the drivers’ side. Altman uses light to provide both an alien feeling and an anxiety specifically by causing it to destroy the detail in an already impish character’s face.
The ultimate storytellers, the Greeks, had only comedy and tragedy. Shakespeare caught their drift. Then, in my favorite era of cinema (40’s – 60’s), there was Noir and Screwball. This is something present day filmmakers have forgotten about. Now all we have are comedies that are a drag (Judd Apatow, Wes Anderson) and Blockbusters that don’t have the balls to be truly tragic.
SO what is the difference between Blanc and Noir thematically?
I’ve always hated happy endings, but I think Noirs have tragic endings and therefore Blancs should have generally happy endings. Blanc represents the cream of the crop in this Silver Age in Cinema, where comedy and tragedy are all mixed up.
PS I still love you Wes Anderson.
Le’s bump dis shit.
veronika voss? is this what u mean? it’s the first thing that entered my head
I have seen the term elsewhere, seems elegant enough, but I’m not sure of the specific narrative mechanics it should refer to. Is it some refutation of the noir engine? It would make sense if so, since the terminology does reference it. If not, I wouldn’t know where to begin; Yoshida’s Affair in the Snow and Fessenden’s The Last Winter both unfold across blinding vistas of snow, but how different!
I would offer After Dark My Sweet and White of the Eye, noir and horror in stark daylight.