Friday, July 2, 2010
Lovers in a small café
I am in love with a photograph by an old Hungarian photographer named Gyula Halász, or Brassaï. He was fascinated with nightlife in Paris in the early 1900s. His photos from that collection, all published in a book called Paris by Night, depicted people in brothels, cafes and other low-life-type establishments. He photographed the "unspeakables."
Brassaï was a photographer in the surrealism movement, but that doesn’t mean he was a surrealist photographer. In his Paris photos he captured the dirty streets and the side of Paris most people weren’t aware of. Most couldn’t believe the reality of brothels and alley life, so they started to group Brassaï’s work with the surrealists. Indeed, his nude photographs have an element of surrealism, but Paris by night, on the surface, depicts reality.
What I love about the photograph, called “Lovers in a Small Café, near the Place d’Italie,” are the levels of reality Brassaï brought to it. In my interpretation, he uses the mirrors in the background to divide one reality into the separate realities of the individuals. While the couple enjoys each other’s company in the foreground, the mirrors split them up into their separate lives. You can’t tell whom the individuals are with, but both the male and the female faces look defiant. I imagine them both longing to be with someone else or to be more independent. Brassaï used mirrors in several other café and brothel shots, usually concealing the actual face of the subject and only depicting them through their reflection.
Anyway, to get to the point of this rambling. I watched a movie today on Netflix that reminded me a lot of that photograph. In fact, I almost took it to be a video representation of the image.
It's called "Conversations with Other Women" (photo courtesy of IMDB). Honestly, I only queued it up on Netflix because it starred Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter. I had no idea how the movie was laid out, and that turned out to be the best part. The movie starts off as one screen video, but as soon as the couple meets, it is divided into a split screen. It stays that way for the rest of the film (except the end, but that was expected). The split screen normally depicted the same scene of the movie, only one camera was focusing on Eckhart and the other on Carter. There were moments where the screens would hiccup and show a somewhat alternate reality of one of the two.
The story itself is about two people that meet at a wedding and seem to hit it off, but then the viewer realizes that these people had already met years ago and are somehow trying to rekindle their past in this one night. I don't want to ruin the movie because I highly recommend it, so I will just leave it to you to see it.
Regardless, the correlation between my interpretation of the photograph and the cinematography in the film echo each other almost exactly. So much, in fact, that I felt compelled to write this blog.