I like when mainstream cinema picks up some refreshing ideas from the experimental scene. The film runs a dual screen throughout, showing simultaneously two actions in two views. This is purely formalist but since the concept is maintained end to end, it becomes integer part of the narration in a playful way.
A man and a woman meet at a wedding, chatter with a certain self-conscious distanciation, joke around cynically about marriage and flirting, and inevitably spend the night together in the hotel, all in one breath, uninterrupted. Like a grown up pram flirt, with all the mature irony of a late thirties couple with a divorce under their belt. Tacitely agreeing to play an awkward pretense game, a mysterious connivence seems to build up quickly despite constantly refering to their absent better-half. They intellectualize the inconsequential guilt to talk themselves out of an imminent mistake as they approach closer to the adultary bed... The clever conversation drops scarce clues that reveal they know more about their past than we do. Through incremental steps, the intrigue develops on who we think they are. The "surprise" effects are largely underplayed though, almost en passant, as the revelations are rather amusing than a proper "twist".
They are desillusioned and convey a hopeless romanticism.The boring melodrama, mostly dialogue-driven, is wittingly written, takes a new turn by the simple fact we see twice as much on a split screen.
Notes on the dual screen "gimmick" :
- The split in the middle is a reminder that the cinemascope aspect ratio (2.35:1) is nearly the sum of two standard square format (1.33:1).
- One side is dedicated to the man, one to the woman. Although the switch of view allocation is part of the fun.
- 2 cameras film each scene, one framing the man (Aaron Eckhart), one framing the woman (Helena Bonham Carter).
- The film is about a couple, man v. woman, about the clash of two point of views, about each trying to figure the other's perspective without telling too much... therefore the form meets content and the screen is split physically to give both an equal platform of expression.
- Perception of two realities at all time. Spatially : 2 places, or 2 views of the same room. Temporally : current time and flashback (memories or selective memory re-enactment of the past, confronting their younger-self).
- Not always creative... sometimes the split is redundant as the 2 shots are almost forming the 2 halves of the equivalent widescreen shot.
- Really interesting diptych compositions, identical type of shot or disparity : duplicated shot, great variation of head shots, back shots, wide shots...
- Artificial re-composition (by way of split-screen) of a scene unlike reality. The angle of the two cameras make protagonists look in opposite or the same direction which may or may not correspond to reality. Which gives a supplementary reading of the scene, with 2 parallel meanings of the same action.
Playful switch of a character, or an extra from one shot to the other. Co-ordinated camera movement of the two POV to make an harmonious apparent motion. Extras blocking the view on one side. Side swapping...
- Doubles the theatrical possibilities for shot entry/exit (2 rights and 2 lefts). Continuous (slide from one view to the other) or discontinuous (unrelated motion). Complex mise-en-scène, but the technique could offer much more potential for dramatic effects.
- A third character entering the scene unbalances the duality, and it's funny to see how the director copes with 3 characters on 2 screens. Either cutting faster to display 2 talking heads, or duplicating the shot with 6 people on screen at once.
- Reaction shots on the same screen without the need to cut away. A new interpretation of the reverse shot code. Each looking to the other side of the screen so they seem to be at arm length while they are at the other side of the room (discontinuous background in the two shots).
- Allows to insert a cutaway on screen while keeping an eye on one or two protagonists. The main conversation keeps going during the apparition of flashbacks or cutaways.
- Co-existence of alternate takes of the same action. We see the actors doing the same thing, perceptibly de-synchronous, because they are different takes, filmed separately but played on screen simultaneously. And this has a particular meta-significance on the act of filmmaking and performances. We are allowed to compare outtakes in the final cut, in fact 2 outtakes become both "good". Several different ways to deliver a line, or to act an action are played in a row or simultaneously, alteration of the voice inflection, pause, posture, timing or change of the line altogether.This formal construct, anti-film, making-of material, contributes to dissociate the dual screen and emphasizes a differentiation between male and female perception of the same event, which is the point of the film.
- Storytelling variations. The inclusion of alternate takes in the film propose a narrative multiplicity.
(s) ++ (w) +++ (m) +++ (i) ++++ (c) +++