Archive for March, 2011


Skeletons in the Closet

One of largest themes we have dealt with throughout this term is how parents affect their children and Fridrik Fridrikkson’s 1995 film Cold Fever doesn’t shy from the topic.  Audiences watch as a young man struggles to cope with the death of his parents through traditions of his ancestry in the modern world.  Hirata is haunted by the wishes of his parents and his traditional obligation to put the souls of his parents to rest in the place where they died.  Hirata like Alexander sees ghosts and is haunted by his parents and similar to Bergman, Fridrikkson uses the camera and sound to heighten the spiritual or ghosts’ presence in the lives of both characters.

Looking at the scene where Hirata watches the video letter from his parents, Fridrikkson’s use of sound and cinematography set up the aura for the rest of the film in Bergman esque homage.  The scene begins before it starts.  The music at the end of the previous scene where Hirata is walking with his grandfather, changes to an eerie new song.  The music is in a high octave and is mostly string instruments and the consistent dropping of piano keys, which creates an uncomfortable feeling of mystery. The music sutures the scenes together and as the new scene begins, the camera angle is a low-long shot of Hirata putting in his living room.  There is a flickering of light from a television off screen.  The music screeches and the audience gets the feeling that the camera perspective might be someone else watching Hirata.  At this point the camera angle cuts and the audience watches the golf ball roll into the center of the frame just as a woman speaks. “Atsushi, how are you?” Immediately after finishing her question the scene cuts back to a medium-close up shot of Hirata.  He looks up quickly at the direction of the voices as if he has heard a ghost.  She continues talking and the audience watches as he slowly stands up, almost entranced by the woman’s voice. The music continues in the background. The scene then cuts to a shot of Hirata’s television. The box takes up almost the entire frame and the audience sees a level, pre-recorded video letter from Hirata’s parents in Iceland.  The light is flickering around the box of the television and the music continues.  The audience feels that something is strange about this video letter but aren’t sure what exactly.  Everything seems normal enough but the diegetic music, use of lighting, editing and camera position creates a feeling of discomfort.

While Hirata doesn’t see the actual ghost of his parents, their request for him to visit them in Iceland haunts his life.  Like Alexander, Hirata cannot escape the connection he has to his parents.  When Bergman shows the audience the ghost of Alexander’s father, he uses long shots, editing and sound to create an eerie effect of a ghost for the audience.  Fridrikkson uses the same effect in Cold Fever.  The first time Fridrikkson creates the feeling of a ghost is when Hirata watches the video letter from his parents but as Hirata goes on his spiritual pilgrimage to Iceland on behalf of his parents, Hirata experiences actual ghosts.  The ghost of the child, or nature spirit, and other island ghosts are presented in the same manner of the video letter.  The use of camera and sound to heighten the audiences’ perception that a spiritual being is present is an effective tactic and is reminiscent of the film Fanny and Alexander.

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Like Father, Like Son

Throughout the course of this term, we as a class have explored the role of the child’s perspective in Scandinavian cinema.  One reoccurring theme has been how the environment where the child grows-up impacts (or shapes) the person these children will become.  In Moodysson’s 2000 film Together follows in suit with the other films we have seen, but pushes the idea further.  Moodysson show how ideas/ideals are imposed onto children via their parents.  The core theme of the film is reinforces in the opposition of isolation versus collection.  The parents throughout the film are trying to raise their children under certain ideals but are actually pushing their children away.  However, the children are able to come together despite the idealistic differences imposed onto them via their parents and truly live in harmony.  I will explore the relationship between Stefan and Tet.

When the boys first meet they are intrigued by one another while remaining standoffish.  Stefan lurks in his new room in the Collective Together, unsure of the new and strange ways of the members of the commune.  Tet enters into Stefan’s space determined to evaluate “the outsider.” The camera on Tet is at a low-angle where as the camera angle on Stefan is a level shot.  The angles infer that Tet is superior to Stefan within the Collective Together space.  Almost immediately Stefan sizes up Tet and accuses him of having girl’s shoes and the camera pans down off of Tet and zooms in on the shoes.  The comment is reminiscent of Stefan’s father Rolf, who has a traditional patriarchal ideology of boy vs. girl, man vs. woman.  The audience is exposed to Moodysson’s theme of parents imposing their ideas/ideals onto their children.  The scene continues with a jump-cut of the shoes to a shot of Tet’s face as the boy’s arguing back-and-forth about whether or not the shoes are girl’s shoes or, as Tet suggests, gym shoes.  The camera follows the argument by cutting back from shots of the shoes, which pans up to Tet’s face recreating the power held by Tet, to the unchanged shot of Stefan. Tet can tell he is losing the argument and for the first time the ideals imposed on him by his parents is challenged. How Tet responds to the situation is the perfect representation of a child mimicking his or her environment: Tet calls Stefan a “Bloody Fascist,” and storms out of the room.  The audience relates Tet’s remark to the opening of the film when the Collective Together celebrates the death of last living fascist dictation from the 1930s, Francisco Franco.

In an ironic twist the Collective Together seems to live by the ideals of Che Guevara and the sentiments “the struggle is now, the future is ours,” which is displayed on a poster in the living room where the characters dance and celebrate.  However, based on the restricting ideals of the commune, the people residing within the house are unable to live freely, as the audience has seen with the introduction of a television and the immediate removal of characters Signe and Sigvard.  It is in the children that Moodysson gives the audience hope.  Despite the rocky introduction, Stefan and Tet are able to put aside the ideals imposed on them by their parents and become friends.  At the end of the film, Stefan and Tet are playing soccer in the back yard and there is a harmony created by the different ideological positions colliding.  The simple act of acceptance brings all of the characters to the child’s game.  The children are able to teach the parents how to live together without judgment.  It is in the final moments of the film that Moodysson shows the audience the togetherness the title of the film implies.  The children understand the meaning of Che, the struggle to accept people without our ideological prejudice is now, the future to change it is ours.

Sound in cinema is used to trigger emotion or heighten the awareness to a particular theme from the audience.  Non-diegetic sound is defined as sound coming from a source outside the space of the film. Non-diegetic sound can be sound effects added for a dramatic effect, mood music and narration.  Joachim Trier’s 2006 film Reprise uses all three aspects of non-diegetic sound to cue audiences to the underlying psychological realism of Phillip’s character that drives the film.

Looking at the scene at the pier where Phillip reflects on his relationship with his friends begins with the boys walking down to the pier.  The audience hears what appears to be the diegetic sound of waves crashing on the shore.  The audience is somewhat uncomfortable while watching the scene because why the sound seems to be natural and of the world of the film, these is something unsettling about how loud the waves crashing is in relation to the lack of other natural sounds (i.e. the sound of the boys walking or birds chirping). The effect of muting all other sound in the scene is a reverse tactic of sound effects added for dramatic effect. The overwhelming sound of waves crashing on the shore continues to transforms from diegetic to non-diegetic sound as the camera focuses on a medium-close up shot of Phillip staring off in a daze.  Phillip then runs over to Geir and tackles him into the bay. The eerie sound of the waves crashing dominates the scene. There is no sound of the boys falling into the water despite the splash seen on the screen.  The scene then cuts back to the medium-close up of Phillip as if he never pushed Geir into the water.  The audience realizes that Phillip imagined the event as the film cuts back and forth between the imagined event of tackling Geir into the bay and the reality of Phillip day-dreaming.   The sound of waves crashing continues as the film cuts to a new scene of the boys in Phillip’s apartment.  By suturing the scenes together with the non-diegetic sound of the waves crashing cues the audience to realize that the new scene is in Phillips memory much like the idea of pushing Geir into the bay.  The sound of the waves continues in an asynchronous manner as the film shows a short montage of shots: Phillip passing out beers, Geir looking at a book, Phillip back at the pier, and Phillip putting on a record.  It is the music of the record that disrupts the restless sound of waves crashing.  The audience hears the raw sound of the record spinning round and round.  As the music begins to play, the audience hears the description of the boys’ lives via the re-occurring third-person narrator, who is a detached stance vis-à-vis the plot and characters by describing events from outside the story.  The narrator proceeds to tell the audience a sequence of events: the boy’ friendship and relationship with one another, the relationship of Erik and Lillian, the story of how Phillip met Kari, and the special connection between Erik and Phillip.  The audience almost forgets that the new scene was sutured to the previous scene via the eerie sound of the waves crashing of the shore. To ensure the audience does not forget, the scene ends by cutting back to the same medium-close up shot of Phillip dazing off into nothingness and the sound of waves.

The film Reprise creates the feeling that Phillip and Erik are merely the characters in novels that they revere so much.  A reader has the ability to understand a characters psychological state. Trier attempts to create a similar effect by utilizing every aspect of non-diegetic sound.  The effect cues audiences to the underlying psychological realism of Phillip’s character.

Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 film Show Me Love is the Swedish representation of the American teen film genra.  The film depicts the complacent, boring world of youth culture in Amal, Sweden.  Scott Henderson explains the traditional themes present in Show me Love that originated in American teen films as, “[taking] place against familiar teen film locales and scenarios, such as home, and teen parties, and the actions accompanied by a sound track of popular songs,” in his essay Youth, Sexuality and the Nation (pg 263).  Henderson furthers his arguments by claiming the film creates its distinction with the sexuality of the two main characters, Agnes and Elin.  Henderson claims that the film “opens up the possibility of breaking from the mass-mediated culture which provides the social norms for a city like Amal,” (pg 269).  However, I believe the opposite is true. While Henderson argues “the hegemonic discourse of globalization is challenged as the norms of youth depiction are discarded, and a ‘queer’ subjectivity is permitted to emerge,” the thematic boredom and complacency felt by the character of Elin suggests she is only appearing to be a lesbian to create excitement in her own life (pg 269).

Looking at the character of Elin throughout the film, she never appears happy.  Her life is one of complacency and extreme boredom, which is exemplified in a typical melodramatic teenage fashion.  During the first lunch scene where Elin is eating with her friends, she complains about not wanting to go to Christian’s party.  Her friend asks if she is on her period because she is always irritable.  Elin counters by stating she wants to go to a rave or mug someone.  Her friends tell her that she’s crazy to which Elin screams that everyone is so boring and flops onto the table.  Elin proclaims that everything is so boring and she hates her life.  The feeling of boredom is echoed in her response to Johan announcing that he likes her. Jessica, Elin’s sister, continually reminds her that Johan is a nice guy, a sweet guy and too good for Elin.  She is not attracted to Johan and only dates him in an attempt to not have her private, exciting life with Agnes discovered.  However, in examining her private, exciting life with Agnes, the audience is cued in to realize that Elin is only acting as a lesbian to create the feeling of excitement, not because she is necessarily attracted to women.  For example, Elin first kisses Agnes as a bet with her sister (though she does venture back to apologize), she kisses Agnes a second time while in the presence of an older man (perhaps addressing the male fantasy of being with two women), and only announces her relationship with Agnes because she has no other escape.  Never does Elin proclaim that she likes women or is attracted to women, which Agnes does from the beginning of the film.  The only time the audience is alerted to Elin’s desires for Agnes is when she begins to look at Agnes’ school photo, which is not an example of the lesbian gaze as Henderson suggests, but a representation of Elin looking for excitement in her boring life in Amal.  The excitement that Elin has been craving is achieved in the final line of the film when she announces, “this is my new girlfriend…we’re going to go fuck.”

Henderson’s analysis of Show Me Love as a film which “opens up the possibility of breaking from the mass-mediated culture which provides the social norms for a city like Amal” is disgraceful to the queer culture.  While his interpretation of the film addressing the lesbian gaze in a predominantly male world is correct, the lesbian gaze is from the perspective of Agnes alone.  Elin is only acting as a lesbian for attention and excitement in her boring, complacent world.  Such a film only reinforces a patriarchal status as the lesbian identity. Henderson’s ideal is not fully realized and, once again, queer culture is represented as a minority.

Bille August’s 1983 film Zappa calls attention to the habits people develop based on their environment.  August juxtaposes the wholesome family environment of Bjorn’s world to that of the dysfunctional worlds of Mulle and Sten.  While Bjorn is of a lower-class than Sten, his home life promotes a positive family values and moral responsibility.  Likewise, Mulle’s father tries to instill good moral values into his son, but Mulle and his family are destined to remain in the labor force.  Unlike Bjorn, Mulle is unable to climb the social ladder.  Sten, however, comes from the upper class, but his family is morally corrupt and does not emotionally or physically support Sten.  Like the character of Ingemar in My Life as a Dog, Sten is in the way and is a nuisance to both of his parents.  In his rejected state, Sten rejects his role as a child and morph into a mixture of his environment.  Sten emulates his perception of his father and the only thing that depends on him, Zappa, his fish.

In examining the psychological state of Sten’s being we must look at both his environment and relationship to Zappa.  In Sten’s personal space, his bedroom, the audience is cued to notice the adult features: the room has wood paneling half way up the walls, there are animal skins on the walls as art, the space is dominated by a huge desk in the center, and it is dull except from a single desk lamp and the vibrant glow of Zappa’s tank.  When in his space, Sten and company drink ‘neat martinis.’ The aura the location projects is that of an adult male’s study, similar to the study of Don Corleone in The Godfather and one the audience could imagine as Sten’s father’s study. When in his space, Sten is as powerful as his father. He too can act on his desires without regard for others.  He too can command and control the weak.  And then there is Zappa.  Zappa needs live bait to eat.  He feeds on the weak, similar to Sten’s father.

The combination of how important one’s pet and father is during adolescence is witnessed in the characters of Mulle and Sten.  The difference in these two boys is the nature of both their father and pet.  Gogge and Mulle’s father are gentile and simple.  Zappa and Sten’s father feed on the weak for their own benefit.  The audience can view the children as products of their environment based on their actions.  Mulle know stealing is wrong, but believes that if he can get in with the upper class he might be able to elevate his own social status.  Sten sees that it is natural for the strong to violate the weak to his or her own gain and does so by controlling Mulle and Bjorn.  Bjorn, however, rejects both paths by taking back his freedom.  He fights against his captor, refusing to compromise his values any further.

At the moment when Sten kills Gogge, Mulle loses his ability to fight against his captor.  Mulle becomes cemented in his social role, which is expressed in the scene with Mulle and his father at the factory.  It is with the same action that Bjorn is able to fight against his captor and take back his freedom.  Bjorn knows that emotional connection Sten feels towards Zappa is Sten’s weakness, like Gogge was to Mulle.  By violently stepping on Zappa, Bjorn breaks free from his oppressor and is liberated to reclaim his higher moral value.  Each character is a product of their environment, but August reminds audiences that by taking back the power we too can reclaim our freedom.