I (Eye) Am a Camera By Ronald Bergan

in 12nd Pusan sieh Busan - der frühere Name ist Pusan

by Ronald Bergan

There are some films in which the look or “le regard” of the characters is an essential part of the texture of the film. In Luis Buñuel’s An Andalusian Dog (Un chien andalou), the razor blade slices open a girl’s eye which, according to Jean Vigo, “tells us that in this film we must see with a different eye”. When Lauren Bacall, her chin kept low and her eyes looking shyly downward in Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, gives a curious and fascinated Humphrey Bogart ‘The Look’, it is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Groznyy) has eyes everywhere. It is a film of glances; eyes move up and down, from left to right, penetrating, suspicious, adoring, and watchful. There are eyes too staring from the icons on the walls, and one gigantic eye watching everyone like Big Brother. Anna Karina’s large eyes stare out at us in Jean-Luc Godard’s My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie), the close-ups of her being reminiscent of Lillian Gish, Louise Brooks and Falconetti, the latter tearfully watched by Karina in Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (La passion de Jeanne d’Arc). Who can forget the agonized eyes of Falconetti and the long-held close-ups of the faces of her accuses. The first time we see Apu in Satyajit Ray’s Song of the Little Road (Pather Panchali) is a close-up of his huge eye, through which we will follow the three part saga of his life.

Some of the best cinema is about looking. Life Track, by the Chinese Guang Hao Jin, the bravest film in the “New Currents” section at Pusan, is also about looking. The two characters — an armless man who lives as a recluse in the mountains and a deaf-mute girl on the run after having killed the man who raped her — can only make contact with their eyes. Ironically, she can only communicate with her hands. He never speaks, but listens to music and plays a guitar with his feet. At one moment, in order to empathize with her, he blocks his ears with cotton wool. He cannot hold her in his arms as he would wish. But she isn’t repulsed by him as she watches him washing himself half-naked. However, he shuns her eyes and runs away to hide himself from her gaze.

But their gaze is also directed at us. The film is purposefully alienating. With its very long takes, repeated actions (like repeated lines in a poem) and almost no dialogue, it challenges us, the audience, to look at the two social outcasts directly, to study these alienated figures in a landscape. The camera is unflinching. The narrative is cut down to a minimum. It is a pity, therefore, that this haunting film ends with a more conventional narrative device — a flashback to the man’s childhood — intruding upon the pure nature of the characters’ and audience’s gaze.