There’s no shortage of intelligent work in film. But here we have one of the most complexly referential things I’ve ever seen. Simple self-reference points to itself. Common self-reference points to the viewer defining the experience.
But Mingus used to say why have three threads when you can have seven? Here, some of the most adventurous thinkers in film give us four threads, actually four and a half.
We have the Chekhov play and the Mamet wrapping. Make no mistake that this is not an editing or a translation, but an annotation. We have two perspectives simultaneously. Add to that the notion of the play not as a play for an audience as intended, but an event conducted regularly by the performers for their own sake. This is a creation orchestrated by Gregory, the third thread. One can clearly see in some scenes neither Chekhov nor Mamet but artists collaborating in dialogs. The inner eyes and the outer eyes differ.
Fourth, we have Malle’s creation which introduces us into the equation with deliberately shaky and sometimes mis-framed camerawork. We aren’t part of any prior experience, but the actors do include the camera in their collaboration, as an independent thread. Watch how Andre works the camera.
And finally, we have the framing of the artists in real life. This is not simultaneous with the others and in any case excludes the filmmaker.
I recall seeing Paul Newman in the Color of Money in the first scene, acting on three levels simultaneously. It took my breath away. Here, the purpose of the whole contrivance is to challenge the actors (and the viewers!) to participate in a jazz ensemble of acting where the layer of reality is constantly shifting. They chose Uncle Vanya as the base for a reason, because his evershifting foci of love and hate in pairs provide cues for levelshifting.
Shawn really plays on this. His skill wasn’t apparent to me on first viewing, especially in the first scenes, where all players are on stage and the non-focus actors have to be invisible. But on repeated viewings one can see his mastery, his shifting forehead! Maybe he could have been a Dostoyevsky. The two young women should be celebrated to the heavens for what they do together. I never believed so many giggles and gasps and stutters and excited silences could be so finely woven, tossed so lightly.
This is really, really good stuff, very smart. So far as an intelligent construction you won’t see a superior. I never expect to see four levels at once again in film at least centred in the acting.
Posted in 2000
Ted’s Evaluation — 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.