Not Seeing It All
I have become interested in a style of filmmaking that foregrounds its limits. Not everything is shown or can be shown. There are filmmakers that I particularly connect to this style, among those living are Frederick Wiseman, the Belgian brothers who direct together Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and the Korean director Hong Sangsoo.
The French writer Roland Barthes once spoke about readerly texts versus writerly texts. The former are texts that elicit from the reader no active engagement in making meaning, the texts seem to speak for themselves and strive to appear transparent--like an article in a newspaper or a popular magazine. On the other hand, at it’s most extreme, is Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, a text that appears completely opaque and whose meaning can only be understood through a process of making meaning analogous to writing. The films I am talking about are more towards the writerly side, they engage us through their limits. To give one example, in The Unknown Girl by the Dardennes brothers, a woman standing at a quai looks down to where a girl has died. In standard Hollywood practice, we would cut to what she is looking at but not in the case of this film. It is as if in real time the camera is positioned where it happens to be and will not be able to be where it might also provide us this other point-of-view. These shots that are subtracted allow us to position differently our enjoyment… our enjoyment comes not from the accumulation of images but from the cuts, borders and absences that are specifically engaged by the images.