Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Now that's acting

Olivier Gourmet (nice name) won the Best Actor award at Cannes in 2002 for his performance in the Dardennes' The Son, and having finished up viewing the film last night (I shouldn't watch movies in installments, and I'm sure this one lost a little impact because of it, but as it turned out there was plenty left), I can see why. He plays a carpentry instructor at a trade school, who for reasons I will not go into (we ourselves only find out half an hour in), is torn between two opposing emotions and corresponding courses of action, both compatible with what we actually see him do. In an interview included on the DVD, Gourmet (looking quite different) explains that it was very hard to play "I don't know" – a single motivation, even a complex one, can be signaled in any number of conventional ways, but how do you show one emotion "canceled out" (I would rather say "held in check") by another, so that neither is manifested overtly during the struggle? We find ourselves noticing any clue, however small – a tic, a frown, a snappy remark. Gourmet's control over his body is remarkable; check out his gait for example, or his brisk, efficient movements when washing his hands or doing carpentry. The camera, most if not all handheld, is in his face (or on the back of his neck) throughout – there's one shot where he sends a student to get something from across the room and the camera remains on Gourmet's staring face the whole time. There's also an amazing, apparently continuous shot where someone in the passenger seat of a car (shot from the back seat) steps into the back seat to lie down, which must have required some serious acrobatics by the cameraman (who of course ends up in the passenger seat). Very intense film. Now I have to see La Promesse (same actor, same directors, same Cannes result).

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