Sunday, May 28, 2017

Color Poster Triptychs 06: The Persona Image

for larger version click on the image.
The composition of a profile shot partly obscuring another character's near-frontal view is usually associated with Ingmar Bergman's black and white masterpiece PERSONA (1966). The iconic setup that was referenced or spoofed in countless films about split or merged personalities was not new and only one among many compositions built on half, overlapping and merging faces (now is as good a time to watch this groundbreaking film as any).
It also appears in Agnes Varda's LA POINTE-COURTE (1955) many years before, however, and Bergman also used it in earlier films.

Referenced famously in Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH (1975) and obviously in Kon's PERFECT BLUE (1997).
In the artworks above for three really great films, the black and white aspect is retained. While FRANTZ is, in fact, a black and white film with only a few hints of color, the sepia tone of the DEAD MAN WALKING poster not suggests skin tones but also matches the emotionally dreary tone of the movie. The stylized colorisation in the HABLE CON ELLA ("talk to her") poster combines the monochrome nature of the original image with the strong primary colors associated with the works of Spanish auteur Pablo Almodovar.

In contrast, the three posters below discard the monochrome aspect by keeping more or less natural skin tones. However, the overlapping aspect is much stronger here: unlike the characters that face the viewer in the posters above, one eye of those below is obscured. That way, we only see one half of each face.
for larger version click on the image.
Why are the men always in front of the women?
There is something in all six posters, though, that I was initially wondering about: why are the men (present in four of the six including the young Kevin in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) always the ones in front obscuring part of the women's faces? It certainly is more equally distributed in LA POINTE-COURTE.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this is really a coincidence. First of all, a poster has to prime us for a story by telling us already part of that story. The setup in question basically tells us that character A is looking at (or at least in the direction of) character B who is staring into space and is not returning the look. So there is at least a visual disconnect between them. Because of the profile shot, we also do not have a direct visual connection between B and the viewer, we see him from outside, while we are looking directly into A's eyes. In the Almodovar example, character A (the blue woman) is unconscious for much of the film while other characters look at her, "talk to her" and even behave unethically towards her.

So let us look closer at those four posters that place men closer to us than the women: Three of the four men are slightly out of focus and thus draw our attention to the woman's face. But in GIFTED and FRANTZ the women's gazes only lead us back to the male face, whereas in all the other images everyone is staring into the distance.

In the case of DEAD MAN WALKING the male profile makes sense to me: Sister Helen is by nature a much more open and well-rounded character (hence we see her face more fully) than the arrogant murderer she visits. Actually, the same is true for FRANTZ: protagonist Anna is trying to discover the truth about the mysterious Adrien, who is depicted with closed eyes so that we subconsciously accept Anna as the active, more important character.

In WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, the boy does actively ignore and metaphorically obscure his mother who increasingly seems to lose focus and the connection to her son. Kevin is indeed dominant and manipulative. I haven't seen GIFTED yet, so I can't say anything about that.

There is, in fact, a contemporary poster (left) that shows the man in the back and blurred even though he is much more well-known than the woman. Considering RETURN TO MONTAUK is based on the semi-autobiographical novel "Montauk" by famous Swiss author Max Frisch, this is even more interesting. I am probably going to use this later in a "beach scene with heads in the clouds" triptych.

Note: I do not think the artwork for THE TOURIST (below) falls into this category, by the way, because both characters look actively away from each other.

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