Ducournau’s latest film starts out hard but strips itself down to a level of softness and sentimentality, examining the armors we establish to shield ourselves from the world, and what it takes to transmute our steely exteriors into something more malleable.
Despite the greater amount of incident in Introduction and In Front of Your Face than in, say, the nearly context-free interactions of Grass and The Woman Who Ran, the sense of characterization emerges equally from the supposed downtime, the moments between the conversations.
Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is full of lovely, obvious, expressionistic style choices, which not only registered on my limited Shakespeare palate but felt invigorating after 18 months of watching mediocrely lensed historical dramas on my TV.
What Do We See? operates like a kind of benevolent human magic: it splits our attention between two poles, one natural, the other personal, between the coherent order of the natural spectacle and the driving personality behind it.
Noe uses two cameras to capture all of their travails in intimate close-up, allowing us to see them both at once using split-screen. Such a formally rigorous approach tends to call attention to itself, naturally inviting questions of aesthetics and perception.
The filmmakers repeatedly return to one notable formal strategy: building up a link between two people across a given scene or shot, then punctuating it by cutting to a heretofore unseen observer. Most every image thus gets restated in terms of a previously unacknowledged perspective.
The neoliberal present demands a new mode of realism, adequate to those structures of control that are cloaked by economic and informational avenues utterly inaccessible to all but the highest echelons of technocratic power. Russo has employed formal devices to inscribe these otherwise invisible relationships.
Rrather than dole out character or narrative information too liberally in dialogue, Sugita uses editing and pacing, especially in exteriors, to help the viewer understand Sachi. Scenes without any clear narrative purpose tend to continue without any legible motivation for surprising lengths of time.
Part II builds on its predecessor in sophisticated ways. Hogg has said that the sequel can stand alone, and that may be true, but its almost noirish visual callbacks instill ghostly memories that, over time, transcend the ectoplasm of one person or film.
Even the title, in referring to a future project of the filmmaker rather than the screening that dominates its central plot, invites a broader consideration of its many digressions and the manner in which the political questions it raises are situated sociopolitically, culturally, and in terms of history and identity.