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The aural experience of WW2 by A Man Escaped and The Pianist

Hey everyone,I have just rewatched A Man Escaped yesterday and I cannot pinpoint but to see such similarities to Polanski’s The Pianist in their cinematic methods to creata an aural experience for World War 2. Therefore this would be my discussion for today’s posting

“The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences.”-Robert Bresson

Those who are not familar with my case studies,I would give the brief outlines of these films which both are based on true accounts of people who survived the treacherous conditions of World War 2. For Polanski’s The Pianist-it goes about a radio pianist Szpliman (Played wonderfully by Adrien Brody) who have been forced into the darkest period of WW2-The Holocaust,and his trials and tribulations to survive these odds. On the otherhand for A Man Escaped (Un condamné à mort s’est échappé) ,it goes about Nazi resistance fighter Fontatnie,who was thrown into a German POW camp and about to face a death sentence however he have plans to escape the camp. Both films have their main protagonists faced opposition from the Nazi forces,for Szpliman-it was the discrimination of his religion while Fontanie,was the planned coup to bomb the Nazis.

It was interesting to note that the directors both have experienced the WW2,for Bresson himself-he was imprisoned in a labour camp for a year and half and while Polanski have a traumatic experience of the holocaust,where he was separated by his family and only saved by a farming family and later reunited by his father after the war. For the Pianist,the scene where Szpiliman was saved from going to the concentration camp was based on  a similar experience Polanski encountered. While Fontanie’s ropes and hooks are based on Devingy’s hooks he actually made for the escape. Therefore they managed to incorporate their experiences both visually  into their works.

Now I would like to focus on they managed to heighten the mood aurally,both films are lead by a particular classical music piece which shows the character’s journey arc,for The Pianist,it was Chopin. To Szpilman,playing Chopin is basically his life and identity which linked to Chopin whose pieces were considered as the pride of the country himself. We opened the scene with Szpliman being calm and collected while doing a recording of  Nocturne in C# Minor. There we are shocked by the bombings which deafen our ears. It symbolized about his personal world being crashed. Even when he was hiding,he goes by and imagine himself playing his piano and we hear that Chopin motif of Nocturne in C Minor,which shows the escapism from the situations he wen through. However it was that music piece which eventually saved his life from being killed by a German Officer.

We opened the scene reeked with silence,on Szpliman attempting to get the pickle out of a jar and failed. It added to our minds the fear whenever he will be discovered. There it broke up with the question and of course we hear Szpliman speaking again since the hideout. He was fearful yet uncertain. There it was heighten by the walking of the footsteps,where he sits in and played that piece. It was nothings but faces of awe and pure beauty,that even the officer was moved by his playing.

It did paid off where Szpliman,now in better health performed in a live concert with a united Poland where he performed Chopin. Therefore Polanski’s efficient use of Chopin,symbolized the identity of Szpliman from the somber Nocturme to a slighty optimistic Grande Polonaise Brillante Op. 22 that the passion for music actually saved his life and sanity.

While on the other hand,Bresson’s use of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor-Kyrie added an underlying tone on Fonatnie’s emotional fate. Interestingly Kyrie Elesion,in Latin means “Lord Have Mercy” which shows Bresson’s Catholic background and highlights the struggle Fonatnie have on believing he can escape. David Bordwell seen this music motif as “his main means of direct contact with other prisoners.” We seen Fontanie as aloof and skeptical about the faith,especially his scorn to the Pastor,”If God is good,why don’t he help us” which highlights the doubting faith. As the film goes,this music motif,shows his growing trust and faith in others which leads to a young boy Jost which the mass was played. By using this motif,it added that idea of faith being difficult to be wrangled alone but we need others in order to be alive spiritually.

Here both films have the efficient use of silence to create the suspense and aloofness the characters have to face,while Szpliman’s lines are very sparse to show off the Jewish voice being cut-off. We only hear him speak on the first half,to show the growth of Jewish opposition and him playing the piano infront of the general. We are only allowed to follow Szpliman’s journey by his actions and emotions whenever it was his fear in hiding or his little victories. While on the other hand,we got into Fonatnie’s wrold by his voice-over to help us follow the story which Bordwell analyze was either  “clarify the action“,”receive other vital information through the commentary. Sometimes the narration simply states facts” or “what his thoughts had been “. For instance where he think over how he opened the door or perhaps his fate when he was freed from his death sentence. However it sounds distant as it never pinpoint where it came from “since we never learn whether Fontaine is thinking back over these events or recounting them to someone.” The only times we heard him speak physically was the exchanges between the POWS or Jost,the young boy. There it was sparse as we are more focused on his small actions like chiseling the spoon or writing letters to the wall. It highlights again on Fonatnie’s aloofness with that environment.

Now here is how the sound design of these films come into play to heighten the mood of these films. For A Man Escaped,we are surrounded by the sounds of prison life,and the motif of his freedom was the sound of trains he heard from his prison window. Everytime he gets nearer his goal-the train sounds will heighten. Bresson wrote on efficient sound in film that “the noises must become music”. Even at the pivotal scene where Fontanie and Jost are escaping,we fear for the protagonists’ inability to escape by the loud ringing of the bicycle sounds,the soft gravel sounds and even the footsteps gave us the worry that they would be caught. On the other-hand for The Pianist,where Szpliman was in hiding at a friend’s apartment-we get to hear the “sights” where there is  abrupt noises everywhere and it seems to raise higher as he watched the violence passively. It shows the trapped nature that Szpliman faced,that he is even unable to save his own family.

Therefore in conclusion,both filmmakers managed to create the atmosphere of WW2 by the use of sound. Despite going into different directions,they actually played the sound in order to drive the action. For Fontanie it lifts the idea of faith is not without any driven actions ” in Bresson’s view, to intervene on our behalf. But our own actions, and our determination despite the obstacles in our path, are the most important factors in our survival and in overcoming the evils that life confronts us with.” like how they used the sound of the chiseling spoon to show an aspect of faith. On the other hand,in The Pianist it could be said that the chaos could not shut off a person’s spirit even at times of darkness,like the contrast of deafening silence to the Chopin pieces which symbolized Szpliman’s identity. They used their real-life experiences and translate it to the screens where we journey the characters themselves.

Some musings on Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet)

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet)

Making its mark for being Bergman’s masterpiece and the imagery being copied by so many to the point of Monty Python. I wonder why I feel its deep themes in me. I was pretty sullen perhaps I was thinking how Bergman did this masterpiece that is so well-loved.

It talks about faith,in particular when we actually do doubt if our faith would save us from “Death” or so. I kinda feel that Bergman was Block himself,at the age of eight-he denounced his Christianity and he find it so cynical why people cling to it when there is none. If you did some reading-The Crusades was a period during the Middle Ages where Christians have a mission to “conquer” Holy lands from Muslims-in result there are lots of bloody wars in the Process. Of course,having the Great Plague was perhaps a turbulent time as you seen people everyday dying from a disease spread by rats and kill more people. It was perhaps why he realized that faith is meaningless-there is so much suffering in the world that he was jaded by people who perform these rites. It was until his realization at the end scene when he met Death then he profusely prayed to God for his mercy. To me that hits me so hard as I watched this scene people telling what their lives are while Block was praying so profusely to God-to have mercy. It was so blunt until the line of the housekeeper said “It was finished.” Oh I was hit. I was quiet all this time. That is the realization that Block have. You could said he was the average man who is skeptical by faith.

On the other hand,Bergman is not going to protest how faith is meaningless. For instance the couple-Mia and Jof represented the childlike faith,which Block lacked. From the more innocent and happier vision of The Virgin Mary helping a child to walk to the grimness when he talked to his wife Mia-“I seen the Angel of Death.” after seeing a vision of Block playing chess with Death. Even the ending was pretty comforting when he walked away after seeing that iconic dance with Death.

As of most Bergman films,it talks about life and death. The idea behind the most famous scene was an experience Bergman encountered as a child. While tagging along with his clergy father,he went to a church and there is a mural of that scene of Death playing chess with The Knight. It was perhaps thought-provoking because we humans think we could do anything with our intellect. Of course the game of chess have to deal with your wits. Even Block confessed loudly “I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand, uncover His face and speak to me.” It was powerful-they wanted to God themsleves. However he could not escape death as seen tragically by a particular actor who died by falling from a tree. Or perhaps the last scene when the doomed dance with Death all together. No Death is that goofy Grim Reaper from The Simpsons or Billy and Mandy show. He was slightly clueless yet frightening by that stark appearance. Bergman even admits that he was afraid of death himself in “Bergman Island”. It was contrasted by the warmth of Jof and Mia with their little son Mikadelf where they are later spared from The Black Death,they genuinely cared for each other no matter what. I find it interesting they mentioned “Wild Strawberries” as the food for Block . Bergman made that film incidentally called “Wild Strawberries” which is pretty opposite to the grim Seventh Seal and it do have a trippy dream sequence similar to that film about the professor’s encounter with Death. Again,these fruits showed about the joys of life that Block admits it’s almost heaven.

Well it sounds very deep to the point I was over-thinking about this film. Perhaps it was what Bergman wanted me to get away that even though it was tough to keep your faith,you still have to do it. Bergman do not want me to sugarcoat it. I will leave you with this quote to end this-“I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror. I see my face and feel loathing and horror. My indifference to men has shut me out. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams.”

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