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TIFF08: Digging for the ambiguous in a conventional world

TIFF08: Digging for the ambiguous in a conventional world
Shot 1: a little girl locked behind the fogged glass door of an apartment bathroom, the woman watching her (Emmanuelle Devos), trying the handle and asking if the girl locked herself in.
[Cut to]
Shot 2: Blood on the sidewalk, no—blood on the pavement. A dog lying by the pooled blood, the woman’s husband (Bruno Todeschini) is very close. He looks over the pained body, and we see a glimpse of his car’s headlights and guess what happened. The man gets up and looks out into the night.
[Cut to]
Shot 3: A point-of-view reverse of Shot 2, the man sees a pack of street dogs watching the scene of the accident from a nearby safe distance, under the stare of a street lamp.
Ambiguity is the principal storytelling and aesthetic drive of so-called “art cinema,” and when that most remarkably admirable of artistic attributes turns conventional, a film can render insular, interior characters and expressive silences oppressive in the attempt at profundity and gravity. It can turn insight into pretension by pushing towards a lifeless weight of the moment instead of a life-filled, and by finding nothing but laziness in not-saying what really should be said.
But sometimes, even in a forgettable film like Unspoken (Fien Troch, Belgium), there can be a moment like this: a strange, unexpected crisis of minute character and unresolved explanation; a jump-cut to something terrible already done, which we momentarily have to play catch-up to in the story; the brief but quick gathering force of that catch-up (blood, dying dog, sad man, responsible man); and then what seems a moment of subjectivity (the point-of-view) but is really a step-back by the narration, the film stopping a moment to comment on the action.
This step back says there is a greater world out there than the problems of the film’s few characters—dogs that could have been hit, that could not, that could attack, that could be together just as they could be apart—and the sudden breach in the film, this rush of dark implications and possibilities, is terrifying to behold. And the flow between these—child locked in a ghostly room and not released, a dying animal in the dead of night, and the greater, threatening world—this flow is ambiguous cinema at its greatest, and most suggestive, even if wrapped in an otherwise painfully conventional film.

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