Give yourself thirty minutes in which to write something. Something about this particular thing. No editing and no re-writing – see where that gets you. A first viewing of the film some years ago, a small art house cinema (now sadly closed) that had palm trees either side of the screen. The film was compelling, broadly traumatic, but still that last sequence got to you.
And watching it again you wanted to slow it down – or rather go back afterwards, watch the sequence again or even pause it to examine it. Not that it’s going to yield any secrets – there’s not anything to be gained from this one supposes, except for a writing exercise. What happens comes like a ripple across the frame. A clenched fist, a character so tightly wound that you find your muscles contracting just watching her. Hair scraped back, the skin slightly puffy. A marbled lobby that is neatly drained of all activity, all sound. Alone with the echoes of the stiff (an unmoving clasp) purse, from which the knife is taken – a long blade from the kitchen.
But then, there, the expression rises as if from nowhere, it comes through like something completely alien. What is this manifestation? Strange to think that this is no doubt the most expressive moment the character has – is this right? Maybe it should be that it is the most unusual expression that comes out – the most inventive somehow. It contains too much. It a despairing, hate-filled growl but that’s not nearly enough. It’s absurd too – mocking, arrogant, even playful in the circumstances…
It accompanies the movement of the knife, high up, as the right arm is raised in front of the face, bringing it back down into the shallow flesh at the front of the left shoulder – this movement too is unsettling, the blade only entering an inch or so, perhaps hitting bone, jarring into the sturdy bars of the upper ribcage – the knife comes to a halt horribly, swaying with the initial momentum and the persistence of the action, the stabbing hand oscillating momentarily. It leaves another mouth behind, like lipstick on the blouse.
The expression – and I want to call it a smile (maybe something to do with the smile that Francis Bacon always thought he hadn’t captured successfully) – is certainly a speech act too, you can see it’s intention to wail out in the reverberant foyer, trailing both the lover who has entered the auditorium and serving as a general utterance to empty space, a swelling attempt at certainty – that she is there too, that she exists. Here too there is no need for a full close-up – no need for any magnification of tiny details of dramatic emotion – as this smile does not concern subtlety in that sense. I’m not sure what I mean when I write this but there is no going back. It is something of an eruption of the face – if it does accompany the most pronounced act of violence in the film, then this violence is matched by the tearing of the mouth… But is this a single expression or can it be broken up into countless shades…?
It is not necessarily a matter of a character being encapsulated by a betrayed detail, more a question of a character becoming something entirely other before our eyes – where an expression breaks out that is so drastic that it does not seem to belong to them, and in some curious way does not even belong to the film – maybe that’s it then, it is a leak INTO the film of something that is too extreme to be a construct of the scene, a construct consistent with the material that surrounds it, the matter that makes up that particular world. Another world interrupts here, one that is uncontrolled for a moment – a slip of chaos that the actress nonetheless has the capacity to rein in and close off, as if the tap were the mouth that closes again, the knife being returned to the purse.
There is nothing else to do now. We leave the building. There is nowhere for the film to go. It is never a question of gaining an insight into a character, identifying or empathising with her, at least not here. Already she has seemed too far away, at such a distance that is difficult to negotiate any access to her – but here there is a sense that absolutely all ties are severed for a moment – an anarchic instant, even if it is also shadowed by a strangely romanticised, overblown theatrical stabbing toward the heart, that is led by the grimace. The face leads here, not the knife – it is the weapon that permits the face to revolt…
Keep going, continue writing… the terrible nature of the smile is partly to do with its absurd humour – the slapstick puerility, a silent raspberry blown into the chest. Time’s up. Dot images into the text.