4 Mar 2010

Dawning Recollections: Bazin on the Flashbacks in Carné's Le Jour se lève

Dawning Recollections:
Bazin on the Flashbacks in Carné's Le Jour se lève

In footnote 6 of Chapter 3 in Cinema 2, Deleuze cites André Bazin's Le cinéma français de la Libération à la Nouvelle Vague. In a future post, we will explain how Deleuze applies this material. Below, we merely summarize the relevant parts of the text. My additions are bracketed.

In cinema, the content is not much different than the form. We see that in Le Jour se lève, the technique is inseparable from what underlies the action.

The story is sometimes set in the present, other times in the past. The way Carné does so is unlike how any other director has employed flashbacks (78d).

There are three main flashbacks. They divide-up the present time into four blocks.

Normally in literature, action happening in the past can be described by using past tenses of a verb. However, in film, there is no easy way to clearly demarcate past and present events, because they will look about the same when projected on the screen. Say for example the director wants to do a scene from the past. The same table that is there now was also there back then. But the director cannot shoot the table in the past. She can only film it in the present. Carné must get us to believe that in the room an event happened in the past, while the character recalls it in the present.

In film, when scenes are set in distant times and spaces, often the director will use a dissolve technique (fondu enchaîne). [This is analogous to cross-fading in music, when one song fades-out just as another one fades-in.] So the image of the previous scene fades-out little-by-little so to allow the next image to appear.

In Le Jour se lève, there are two ways that one scene moves to the next. For events in the present, the changes use rapid wipes (volets), where the next shot in a sense sweeps across the screen, replacing the previous one. [The video should work when you press play, even though no image shows until then.]

But when a scene shifts from the present to a past event recalled in the mind of the main character, François, then Carné uses an exceptionally long dissolve.

[In this clip, we see the main character, François, drift into a flashback. One scene dissolves into the next.]

The dissolve corresponds to two things.

1) The fading of the dissolve is like how we physiologically experience the transition to daydream. Our eyes become fixed. Our pupils enlarge. And the images we see become blurred. (80b)

2) The dissolve superimposes images. This allows us to know when something is imaginary. Consider how in ghost films a semi-transparent figure is superimposed on the full imagery of the scene. The long dissolves in Le Jour se lève are a sensible symbol (symbole sensible) of the purely imaginary nature of the images to come. This way we can visibly sense that we are changing the sorts of reality from the real of the present moment to the imaginary of memory. (80c.d)

Recall again how in literature, writers may use tense-shifts to alter the temporality of the sentence from present to past. Carné also uses music. There is a heavy drumbeat and bass during the present. It drills obsessively and oppressively. [It gives us the impression that it is François' death march to his fatal end.] Then as he drifts to the past, the drums and bass are replaced with something quite different. A flute fades-in and gives a sentimental feeling. The two themes might be found alone or mixed, but they are always subtle. The lighter theme is the logical and musical counterpoint to the heavy drum theme. The flute theme is melodic, while the drum is rhythmic and percussive. The two have opposing feelings, and their change gives a physical sense of an inversion of mood as we move from past-to-present and present-to-past.

So thanks to Carné's dissolves and Maurice Jaubert's music, we are psychologically prepared for the temporal transitions.

The music does more than accompany the action. It is itself an action. The past weighs on the present. We cannot escape it. When the heavy music fades-in while we return to the present, for example, the music performs a downward action. (82-83) [In a sense, the past never goes away.]

François's room is filled with items which help him recall the past (87a).

François smokes a pack of cigarettes. After running out of matches, he must light the next cigarette as soon as the current one is finishing. This requires that he be vigilant. His smoking vigil in a way creates a rhythm of time. And when he reaches his last cigarette, we sense that his end is near. (89-90)

[The movie begins with a murder, but we just see a man who was shot fall from the stairs. The movie takes place from that moment until dawn. However, during this period, François reflects back three times on the events leading up to the murder he commits. Each time the flashback brings us closer to the murder. Right before the final flashback, when he recalls the killing, he yells angrily out the window to a crowd gathered in the streets below his window. Then after this is the flashback. It shows him at a point unable to control his anger, and then shooting the man in his room. But note that his angry murder happens chronologically before he yelled angrily out the window, even though it occurs afterward as a flashback.]

Bazin says that François' burst of anger before killing the man in his room cemented him to his destiny: to kill the man and soon be kill himself (99d).

Bazin, André. Le cinéma français de la Libération à la Nouvelle Vague (1945-1958). Ed. Jean Narboni. Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 1998.

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