Saturday, September 28, 2013

Suffering of the Devoted

In a remarkable scene typical of Bauer's filmography, as Lily recovers from her operation and slowly opens her eyes to discover that she has gained sight, she sees Gregoriy in front of her and mistakes him for Vadim, the doctor who actually operated upon her and is in sincere love with her. Seeped in gratitude and happiness, she gives her heart away to Gregoriy, while poor Vadim lingers in the background, distraught at this peculiar undoing of his love. Characters apart from Lily all choose to preserve this error in recognition - Lily's only recently recovered from an operation and the mental trauma of a correction may send her into relapse. This sounds convenient, but Bauer is convinced of a universe where the devoted with suffer - this is visible in almost all his major films; his is a poetry of a world not fair or just in anyway, but open instead to the arbitrariness that is a yield of an irony-filled circumstance and often inexplicable forces of human impulse and feeling. The scene in question is a perfect example of Bauer's cinema - a microcosm, if you will - because it is full of two particularities. The first, the utter irony of the situation, wherein a man helps a woman regain physical, sensory sight which results, instead, in blinding her to his love. The second of course is inherent in Bauer's direction of scenes. Major moments or twists-of-fate in Baueur are not as much a result of events transpiring or similar apocalypses, but of the unpredictability of human movement: a posture, a brief strut across the room, a minor shuffling of position or a wrongly placed limb. 

In the scene, as soon as the operation is complete and Lily slowly begins to open her eyes, Vadim quickly moves from besides her to his apparatus in the background of the frame to fetch a comforting lotion for her; Gregoriy on the other hand moves quickly towards Lily to comfort her, replacing Vadim in his original position so to say. This movement across the floor where Vadim (literally) recedes into the background and Gregoriy is summoned to the fore leads to the central misunderstanding of the film: Lily opens her eyes, sees Gregoriy and falls in love with him. But the eccentric dance does not stop here. Vadim, grief-stricken and a loser in love, slowly saunters to the side of Lily, takes her hand and kisses it in resignation. Lily, so much in love now, is completely oblivious to the tragedy that her newly acquired sight has woven. Gregoriy, equally saddened by his inadvertent usurping of his brother's position, recedes back into the background, where he stares into a void that exists behind the frame, with his back towards us. Lily's mother, sympathetic to Vadim's situation but helpless nonetheless, attempts to comfort him but failing, turns to leave the scene, perhaps unable to bear the misfortune that resides within it. It is at this point that Bauer causes his actors to arrange themselves in what is a truly remarkable pose: Lily, seated on the sofa and in love, is exulting with happiness; her mother is exiting the frame from the right - slitting the frame right in the middle are the two brothers, placed in a two-dimensional frame to appear as if they are the same creature, mirror-images of each other, tentacles of the same organism. Their heads are bowed down in grief but it is Vadim whose face is visible to us; the insinuation is clear: it is he whose suffering will be evident to us and it is he whose physical being will become easily replaceable by that of his brother - the blocking within a frame presenting a clear account of Lily's confusion.

The Happiness of Eternal Night (1915) / Yevgeni Bauer