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I’s Eyes: Exploring Use of Eyes in Films

December 3, 2016 | By

The recently concluded Kolkata International Film Festival threw up a few interesting films including Katarina Zrinka Matijevic’s The Trampoline, Maria Govan’s Play the Devil, Kim Ki Duk’s Net and Kristina Grozeva-Petar Valchanov’s Glory among others. Silhouette editor Amitava Nag finds the use of eyes in these films to be affecting. They seem to strike a dialogue with his poetry and his memories of the films he watched in his previous life.

The Trampoline

A scene from Katarina Zrinka Matijevic’s troubling claustrophobic film The Trampoline

Seven year old Lina’s menacingly black pupils (The Trampoline, 2016, dir: Katarina ZrinkaMatijevic) inherit pain and loss of a few generations of Croatian women.  Be it the teenager Nika or the woman at the orphanage Nikolina – their future are same, already plotted on the timeline with similar results. While Lina looks disheveled and distraught Nika revolts against the society and her mother. The mothers are all single, cold, ruthlessly non-communicative and alarmingly alien. Nikolina hence doesn’t want to go back to her mother; she doesn’t want to become one. Yet her warm eyes probably restore some faith in human relations of forgetting and believing, in falling from grace and waking up to new challenges –

The smell of your guttered eyes
haunt me the way your love does,
it is not the mind or the brain
only,
even my genitals
have memories of you

Maria Govan’s Play the Devil

The mood of the three eyes in Maria Govan’s Play the Devil

Even the eyes in Maria Govan’s Play the Devil wander from piercing to uncertain and finally disillusionment and grief. The alpha male gaze of Greg’s elder brother contrasts against the soft penumbral shadows of James, the rich and affluent businessman who gets into a homosexual relation with Greg. In the 18-year old student Greg, the director packs in a microcosm of Trinidad. Like its location Greg is financially poor but physically beautiful. Greg is as much naïve as he is a dreamer who doesn’t know how to fulfill the broken aspirations – in the process he gets exploited and is left with one single brutal, raw emotion to express and be free. In his confused, soulful, poignant eyes Greg actually transcends his geography and represents all the human beings of lesser places with bigger dreams who are continuously jilted and who more often than not stifle in the cul-de-sac of their own struggling existence-

Kim Ki Duk’s Net and Kristina Grozeva-Petar Valchanov’s Glory

The commoner’s delusion and disillusionment in Kim Ki Duk’s Net and Kristina Grozeva-Petar Valchanov’s Glory

Layers of cloud
hang in your room
shield my eyes,
you wait –
the sand waits
the sea vanishes
again.

The look of the commoner, when confronted by the society at large, is almost always that of disbelief, bewilderment and of pity. It is a struggle of power, of dominance and in surrendering. Kim Ki Duk’s Net and director duo Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s Bulgarian film Glory follow the lone man. Their loneliness is granted by the state whose power of subjugation controls their lives and shatters their emotional quotient and confidence. When Tsanko stutters and stammers it is less physical and more symbolic of the condition of the common man when pitted against the heavy weight of the state. In their loneliness they confront the self more than the external being – a tussle which every human has to undergo at some point in his or her life.

‘grief is never profound’ he mutters to me –
’cause, history forgets the memories’
I look at his face, there is darkness
in his eyes – a misty tunnel endless,
marooned.

A definitive scene from Xavier Dolan’s deeply touching and sensitive It’s only the end of the world

But what happens to the one who can look at the end with poise? For him the trivial tribunals of life are meaningless. What remains is tranquil peace that sedates the soul, camouflages the mind and tames the earnestly restless eyes. In Xavier Dolan’s star-studded It’s only the end of the world we witness a family drama teeming with dialogues and yet no one speaks to any other. All the speeches are monotones, for the self sounding against one’s own existence. When Louis returns to his family after 12 years to break the news of his terminal illness he shudders and finds all the dialogues holding no purpose as the modes of communication have all burnt down within us. His mother hugs him in a warm embrace as Louis looks out of himself to the next world which flirts with him in flowery curtains. The curtains tremble in amorous anticipation and Louis looks at us – not once but twice, in remembrances of our pending journeys to the other life.

The darkness is pale
by your radiance,
a lightning between your eyes
burns the bridges to you
I have lost sight now –
groping the black air surrounding you
I mix colour, come back
to me, be my canvas.

One of the most horrific yet popularly viewed scene from Luis Bunuel’s surrealist masterpiece Un ChienAndalou

Maurits Cornelis Esche

Maurits Cornelis Escher’s ‘The Eye’ looks straight in my eyes

Keeping aside all these romantic notions of love, longing and desolation, the one scene that haunts the mind of I is the surrealist eyeball slashing scene of Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou. The passing of time and of senses from ‘Once Upon a Time’ to ‘Eight Years Later’ happens with the slice of a razor! It sure has a purgatory influence on the mind immersed in abnegation and also self-pity.

Bunuel’s slashing brings me to Maurits Cornelis Escher’s geometrical art or the other mathematically detailed illustrations that wrecks the sanity of levels and reality. Even the one called ‘The Eye’ looks straight in my eyes with a reflection of death. In a way it drifts me to Dolan’s film with the same punctuated fright of looking out of one’s own and reflecting on the symphony of death. On the opposite symmetry lies Escher’s ‘Hand with reflecting sphere’ which to me is always the eyeball. It is as if to dissociate the ‘look’ by taking the eye out of its socket and then observing what it ‘sees’. Escher finds an old self of his in his eyeball. I find my childhood in it.

Hand with reflecting sphere

Escher’s another masterpiece ‘Hand with reflecting sphere’

I wished –
I could read your eyes
that talk about love
and the lips that show me
a better world, I wished – alas
I lay – pithy disgruntled.

Human eyes are probably the most asexual object that human beings ogle at and appreciate. It is gender-agnostic.  That is why I love Van Gogh’s dark pupils even though unlike Monalisa he seldom looks at me. Van Gogh mostly provides a profile, rarely a frontal, is he my predecessor for striking a selfie pose? While I sport a mobile camera, he handles a brush. Where does Van Gogh look in his self-portraits? Is he in a continuous search for something elusive? Or is he generally shy to make an eye-contact? Is his lasting tryst with sadness anything to do with his quest, his look, and his intense yet vacant eyes?

If man is a product of his own misgiving why do we blame him? Is there a choice to act differently? Or to work towards a selection of choices for an outcome which could have been different? Or, in the larger scale of things there is a semblance in our madness? Rembrant’s magical light is pensive to an extent. It makes me vulnerable cause there are dark shadows even in the longest tresses of light rays. My eternal love for the sunshine that hides behind the monumental crevices of psychotic misadventures makes me close to my greatest auteur Ingmar Bergman -“Life around me – the darkness, the emptiness of the house, the sunshine – everything could have some magic inside that could be, suddenly, very insecure… I didn’t know if I dreamt things or if they existed.” Persona signifies to me that bridge between my perception of I and the one in others’ eyes. The identities of Alma and Elisabet merge as they spend time together in isolation, in love or a lack of it?

The mystic light illuminating portrait of an old man by Rembrandt (L) and Vincent Van Gogh’s self portrait (R)

Ingmar Bergman’s Persona

The iconic scene from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona where Alma and Elisabet merge to a single self, as if

After 3 cups of coffee
There is a long pause always
almost a slumber
of emotions – desolate, obscure.

you raise your index finger,
look at my eyes with a slosh –
“why do you invent war?”
I am suddenly pensive
with no answer – my lips
pink and nervous,

I leave the verse with a comma since monologues don’t end; they hang in monotones, discrete, discreet. Life could have ended in Monica Vitti otherwise. The woman with the most beautiful eyes, she is intangible, like a metaphor or a dream.

Monica Vitti

Monica Vitti’s alluring face and the unfathomable depth of her mystic eyes

“How have you been”
you ask my eyes,
I try to fathom
the depth in your question,

Madhabi Mukherjee in Satyajit Ray’s Charulata

Madhabi Mukherjee in Satyajit Ray’s Charulata – her dark pupils combine her memories and experiences

You have ignored
the vacant dryness that lead
the corridors of my pupils
thinking it my arrogance.

Stop over Monica,
Stop once before
you are done with the race.

Manika is the name of my mother. I never knew who named her. This is an elusive secret that allures me forever. I don’t know who named Monica as well.

Postscript: I have outgrown Godard. Otherwise his Alphaville and his Anna Karina could have been mine too.

Likewise, Madhabi Mukherjee’s Charu in spite of her intense stare is only of Ray and Amal. She alluded Bhupati as well as me.

Scene from Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville

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