If somebody told me (s)he knew this great screenplay writer, who was dying from AIDS, and went to say goodbye from his family, he hasn’t visited for years, my reaction would be pretty much something like „Oh, what a sad story, sorry for your lost“. If someone told me his name was Jean Luc Lagarce, it really wouldn’t make much difference. So here is this thing that bothers me a lot lately. What makes it so different to be emotionless in everyday life, but show some strong emotions in theater or cinema?
In last 6 months I had a chance to see Xavier Dolans „It’s only the end of the world“ on three different occasions. There were a lot of differences between these three occasions but I always sensed the same emotions, for the majority of film I was feeling unpleasantly numb and last 20 minutes of film I was drowning in tears. What really made me care about character of Louis-Jean Knipper on screen but in reality I would be emotionless for his destiny?
At first I was really sure my emotions had to do something with a „cinema experience“ and the way movie was shot and edited. My assumption came from premise that first time I watched this movie it was at a festival, I was a part of a group experience, there were 200-250 people around me, they were showing their emotions, movie was played on big screen in 4:3 format, cinema had great surround sound system etc. But here comes the interesting part, on my second viewing I was alone at home, needed to do a review, played the screener on a TV, and again numbness and tears. I experienced the same thing with a film in my local cinema, there were 20-30 people on screening in total, and the movie was played, by mistake, in widescreen.
So in reality, what I felt wasn’t really a part of „cinema experience“, because even alone my feelings haven’t really changed. I can’t really deny technical aspects of the film, closeups and extreme closeups in 4:3 are just masterful, they were intended to make us feel close to characters, to experience this movie, and yes disbalance in sound between dialogue and music was also a great way to build up some emotions (same thing goes for editing). But as I said, wrong format in local cinema didn’t ruin the movie, my tv that has bad speakers neither. So once again what made me care about Louis-Jean?
Could it be the acting of Gaspard Ulliel and others? Or maybe Dolans choice of colors in film, shadow-play over Gaspards face, the way characters reflected their home with clothes and personalities? So what would happen if I got rid of all this, if I went back to screenplay and theatre piece „Juste la fin du monde“. I did my research, read the screenplay by Jean Luc Lagarce, and watched a video of a theater play. While reading the lines of dialogue from play, I appreciated it, but it did not wake any emotions in me and when I watched play that numb feeling I had for majority of film wasn’t really that strong, but as play progressed and it was closer to it’s end once again I started drowning in tears.
At that moment I realized why do I have these strong emotions when it comes to a film (and theater play) but I do not react to plain written or spoken words. While watching a movie, I reacted to what was happening in front of me, I reacted because it felt familiar to me. In characters of „It’s only the end of the world“ I have recognized people and events that are close to me, yes all things I mentioned in this text were little important pieces of film puzzle but they all would mean nothing if I, or any other viewer, couldn’t find something real within this story. So in the end to sense a film is to find reality on screen, but there opens a new question, are all great movies lifelike or there is something more to art of film?