Emily Bronte’s classic novel which takes us to the roots of forbidden love has been adapted to screen several times. But surely it hasn’t had this kind of magnificent comeback before. Most of the cinephiles know it maybe as a soap-opera like William Wyler’s adaptation shot in 1939. But there it was used as a melodrama flick to attract the female audience as well. So it needed the touch of directors like Luis Bunuel, Jacques Rivette and Peter Kosminsky throughout cinema history.
I think the touch of Andrea Arnold is the most recognizable one up to now. It takes the English heritage film vein and creates out of it a subjective and stylistic model. Almost the same ideology incorporated into The Go-Between and The Great Gatsby adaptations from the ’70s have been injected here from a visionary point of view. Arnold brings these films, Jane Campion’s and Lynne Ramsay’s approaches together, changes the class system habitude inside the genre and adds a 1.33:1 aspect ratio touch along them.
Like we have seen in Fish Tank, she is putting next to us a character situated outside of the society. There it was the working class, here it is 19th century peasants. Arnold’s target is to get inside the head of a character in ‘existential’ needs. That’s why we are destined to low angles, close-scaled lenses, close-ups, diegetic sounds and a hand-held camera following Heathcliff all the time. He is peeping into the family and Catherine Earnshaw from inside or outside the hut. The main problem is whether this African-American maid Heathcliff is getting into the intimacy of the family’s core or not. Maybe Catherine and Heathcliff’s forbidden love is going to the roots of an incest relationship. But here Arnold is lifting up the dramatic and visual meanings out of it very sincerely.
Firstly we see Heathcliff in his home, running, hitting his head, falling and injured. That conjures up the possibilities of a jammed social class or theme. Because the written love words are starting a chaos in his life. That’s why this opening sequence is shown from deeply constructed close-up shots and close-scaled objectives. After these moments slow by slow, the TV format aspect ratio starts to cover the squeezing of this guy, as we have seen in Fish Tank. Mia there transforms into Heathcliff and Fish Tank name symbolizing that 15 year old can’t get out of his/her core changes with Wuthering Heights as a pastoral and alienated landscape. Arnold alienates the space and takes responsibility to make something different out of Antonioni’s cinema view.
In this part the non-linear timeline, the showing of bugs and other ‘low class’ animals, detailed sound-sound editing processes, extreme close-ups, over the shoulder shots, out of focus shots, peeping camera, usage of fogs, savageness and naturalism of sex scenes becomes more clear. From there Wuthering Heights creates a hypnotic, pastoral and poetic journey without even using music except in the closing sequence. It is resuming the passion between a white girl and Afro-American man, starting from a kiss on a blessed skin. The film is about that kind of symbolic abstractism and nihilism in 19th century’s social class approach and slavery’s low angle situation.
So this TV format aspect ratio makes it seem like the jamming comes inside you and follows you with a melancholic point of view. The hand-held camera seats next to us and watches us at some moment. Probably no previous Bronte piece has seen that kind of adaptation before. Because in some ways turning upside down the color of the male part as well makes it transform into a postmodern scale. This adaptation should be seen as the relevant income of this adjective. Because the usage of editing and sound editing techniques takes is beyond the 19th century English countryside view and puts it in a universal approach with a lot of lines inside the sub-texts. And getting an African-American lead character instead of the usual white man brings that kind of change as well. The film is about forbidden love, passion, slavery, racism, incest, adolescence with a tone of several levels like in all Andrea Arnold films, but in a more original and stylistic approach.
© FIPRESCI 2012