Sunday, May 4, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW | A Comparison of the Mise-en-Scene of Amores Perros and Requiem for A Dream

First frame. Silence. After some second –wham, a car hits another and the narrative of Amores Perros started to unveil showing how humanity could destroy itself from its wrecked nature. Shift to another film. Funky heavy metal music enters. Then two characters appear, having some sort of argumentation having a single door separating them apart. 

The disorder gave the movie away as it showed how its leads drowsed themselves with illegal substances. Giving the two films enough attention, I was moved by the strong audio-visual splendors and themes that they were able to transcend to its viewers –one, the frailties and seedy side of life, the other, the horrors of drug addiction. But as a critical viewer, the film would not be that effective without looking at the elements that made the movies psychologically striking and emotionally disturbing.

One important element of mise-en-scene is the actor. In Amores Perros, director and filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu surrounded himself with a strong cast. Veteran Emilio Echevarria is magnetic as Chivo, the ex-guerilla who left his family because of his ideology. Alvaro Guerrero brings youthful energy to the part of Octavio, the protagonist who fell in love with his sister-in-law, and Goya Toledo is suitably fragile and spoiled as the model who is used to having the world bow down in front of her. There is not a weak performance to be found throughout the movie.

Meanwhile, Requiem for a dream successfully presented a drug-addled tragedy through its cast. Jared Leto gave life to Harry, a junkie and petty thief who routinely steals and sells his mother’s television for quick cash. Marlon Wayans adeptly broke from his comedic mold as he plays Harry’s buddy, Tyrone. Ellen Burstyn, who played Sara Goldfarb became one of the film’s most interesting character because of the complexity of her dependence and the extremity of her decline. Jennifer Connelly’s character bordered as a poor little rich girl who wants love, not money from her oblivious parents. She seeks excitement and emotional escape with Harry via roguish pranks and rampant drug use.[1]

The two film’s main characters seem to parallel each other, Octavio and Harry. Both have similar purpose in life (at least in the movie) and that is to help their significant others have better lives. Octavio is in love with his brother’s wife, Susana (Vanessa Bauche) and he is determined to make enough money so that he and Susana can run away together (along with her infant son). Harry on the other hand has ideas about supporting his girlfriend, Marion, fledgling design career, offering to fund her business when he reaps big-enough profits. 

Similarly, still, the two engaged in a dirty way of getting money. Octavio was involved in dog fighting that eventually resulted in disaster as he makes enemies with his brother and the local goon squad while Harry aspiring to hit it big, sold dope. Yes, both characters have their visions but unfortunately, they did not materialize. Octavio lost his earned money and Susana did not flee with him and because of the car accident, had difficulty in walking. Harry shares the same predicament as his visions slowly drift away because of his further addiction to illegal substances. In the end, Harry lost his arm, Marion, and his visions. Guerrero and Leto’ s portrayals of Octavio and Harry became moving elements in the movie to convey the sad truth about human weaknesses.

Another important element of mise-en-scene is the set and location used by the film. Set and location make the film realistic and appealing to its audience. They add visual meaning to the film and send signals about the significance of a particular frame or shot. In Amores Perros, Innaritu made the most of his locations by finding the epitome of downbeat urban squalor. The visual representation of an overcrowded, noisy, polluted excess of Mexico City is so strong you can almost feel it. Take for example the set of Octavio’s house. The set seems to be in disarray conveying a whirlwind twist of narratives for the characters. The same is true with the dog fights, the car chase between Octavio and the goon squad that lead to the accident (which brought the three main characters together). 

While Requiem for a Dream, share the same characteristic as that of Amores Perros as the set was against the bleak urban landscape of Brighton Beach (somewhere in Coney Island) to maximize visual appeal in a drug addled story. For instance, the flat of Sara Goldfarb, this time in contrast with the house of Octavio, is relatively neat. However, the set seems spacious and empty though most of the close up shots lingered on Sara and her television set which by the way conveyed that Sara had nothing to do in life except live a world of illusions through the use of her television. 

Going back, the spacious and empty flat is an indication of Sara’s loneliness and longing for love knowing that her husband and son no longer provides the companionship she longs for. The set design of Marion’s flat on the other hand is so cluttered, dim lighted, and diminutive. The set conveys, as in Amores Perros, the small and chaotic lifestyles of the characters – where apart from the viewers’ knowledge that they use illegal substances, the set sends messages that here lies wasted lives.

Light and color, as mise-en-scene’s other elements, are the tools of the cinematographer’s art. In addition to planning camera set-ups and movements, the cinematographer organizes the lighting design of scenes and the placement of color gels to augment or enhance certain colors on screen[2]. Lighting design of Amores Perros and Requiem varies in the sense that Amores Perros employed a realistic lighting design, while Requiem employed pictorial lighting design. 

In general, realistic and pictorial lighting designs are not strict categories and cinematographers often use both but one of the two may be noticeably predominant.

Exterior scenes in Amores Perros used the sun as implication of light source. While interior scenes used overhead ceiling lights, lamplights, and street lights as source lights. Requiem however used pictorial design to symbolize thematic content of a film. For instance, the scene where Sara was having a delusion of the “fabulous Sara who appeared on television”, then came out of the boob tube to her flat and sort of mocked her used pictorial lighting to emphasize the delusion and the reality. 

Another aspect is color. In Amores Perros, although the film seems realistic at face value, noticeable was the use of neutral colors like black, white, and shades of gray. Requiem on the other hand, employed a nit more colors especially scenes with Sara where purple, orange, and red were used to convey striking appeal which in the end resulted in a depressing tragedy of Sara. Marion also used black, especially later in the film that suggested her demise as she trades herself for money to sustain her vice. Evidently, cinematographers, production designers, and directors carefully organize the constituent colors in a shot or scene to create an overall mood or effect.

When it comes to the timeline aspect of the two films, they differ immensely with the way narration is done. Amores Perros is not linear. It curves back on itself, but not in a manner that is intended to confuse the audience. Different scenarios were blended to create a mass collage. The film began with the pivotal occurrence that happened half-way through the movie (the car accident) and later on proceeded to explain how it happened and what took place afterwards. Requiem on the other hand is linear by nature. The film began by establishing the characters, identified their conflicts and ended in a tragic way. Using split screens, time-lapse photography and hip-hip montages, the film conveyed the drug addled mindsets of the leads.

The filmic images of the two films were pulpish. Both invoked pulp fiction, which is something that glamorizes the gangster. It makes the traditional “bad guy” seem hip and interesting. However, in Amores Perros and Requiem for a Dream, the criminals are not romanticized. The bad guys are exposed of what they are – human beings whose moral compasses have become twisted. 

On a final note, both films showcased an excellent way of conveying a statement. In Amores Perros, Inarritu made a s statement by providing his characters something which they can relate to with unconditional affection – the dogs. Using the dogs as a symbol, Innaritu is commenting about a culture where individuals care more about dogs than other human beings. The same is true with Requiem for A Dream. Aronofsky connected the intricate lives of the four characters through one element – illegal substances. The movie however, tells its audience that people have needs and sometimes, we resort to practices to attain these needs just to satisfy our drives as a human being even if the price is high.

[2] Stephen Prince. Movies and Meaning. 1997

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