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🎬 #57 Captured, Chamber Piece Cinema.
Having a film mostly play out in a single or limited number of locations with a small cast heightens the tension almost automatically. It helps all the parts of the story, character, plot, and how they’re executed; cinematography, production design, weave and knit together more closely. Everything becomes even more interrelated and it makes it easier as a viewer to see the connections between theme and space even more clearly - than say an epic that plays out over many locations, many years and many characters.
This week’s two films can be defined as chamber pieces - and both revolve around men keeping women captive for a ‘greater’ good.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: EYES WITHOUT A FACE
1960 Dir George Franju
Franju’s almost medieval horror picture has a tenderness that few others can match. And this is only emphasised by the claustrophobic emotional suffering that is the life of the central character - Christiane. She is the imprisoned daughter of Dr Génessier, who has been trying and failing to perform a facial transplant on her after a car accident, that he caused, left her face horribly disfigured.
There is the constant visual theme of imprisonment and isolation. The presence of the mask, a prison for her true identity, the caged animals, reflecting her and the other women’s plight. Unbeknownst to them the other captured women, like Edna, have become involuntary facial donors. The good Dr will stop at nothing to save his daughter. Kept prisoner from anyone who really cares for her, Christiane is left to form a bond with the other prisoners in her father’s secluded clinic - the dogs. They are the only ones don’t care what she looks like - they appreciate the love and affection she gives them. No judgement, just love that flows both ways.
This is a wonderful film that’s classed as a horror but really is about the fact that humans don’t belong in cages - no matter what, we need to be free and be with the people we love.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hrs 30 mins of my precious life watching this? George Franju’s meditation on the impact of confinement really surprises as a horror film - it’s a touching, incredibly well told story about obsession and what we really need to survive as humans.
*Available for a small rental fee on BFI Player in the UK and on Apple and Amazon in the US.
Fact: Released the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho.
FILM TWO: THE SKIN I LIVE IN
2011 Dir Pedro Almodóvar
This is an unusual film I’d say for Almodóvar, it’s maybe more thriller-y, maybe more horror-y than you might expect from him. But it’s for precisely these reasons that I absolutely loved it. It stands out amongst his other work as decidedly different, in that it leans more into pure genre film.
As you can see from the frame above, it plays into the same imagery as Franju’s Eyes Without a Face - masks, experiments at the hands of isolated men - obsessed with keeping women for themselves, controlling every facet of their existence. This time the experimenter is Ledgard, played by Antonio Banderas, who wishes to create a skin that is essentially indestructible. The prisoner this time is the mysterious Vera who he keeps like some kind of ‘perfect’ doll at his secluded house and clinic. Again you can see the similarities with Franju’s film.
The visual themes of imprisonment and isolation again are found everywhere in Almodóvar’s film - the mask and body suit, keeping identity under lock and key, the carpet in the house, a maze of lines and bold blocks, like a deconstructed Mondrian prison cell. Both films possess a feeling of, or a search for perfection. Bold whiteness, crisp details - Almodóvar’s really focuses in on this flawless quality - that makes everything feel almost too well rendered.
Whereas Franju’s more brilliantly straight forward film uses the chamber piece construct to explore the impact of isolation on humans, Almodóvar’s film uses it to interrogate identity and what makes us who we are. This is a film with many a kink in its tale.
TL;DR why should I spend 2hrs of my precious life watching this? This film really stayed with me when I watched it, a surprising and surgically executed piece of cinema that leaves a mark.
*Available for small rental fee on Amazon, Microsoft, BFI Player and Curzon in the UK and on Apple, Amazon, Google Play and YouTube in the US.
Fact: Between Almodóvar and Banderas’ first collaboration and this, 21 years had elapsed.
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