Unreal Nature

October 6, 2016

The Opaqueness of Visual Appearances

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Such a form of agency involves inscribing an implied audience at an angle to the fiction.

This is from the essay ‘Film Form / Voice-Over: Bresson’s The Diary of a Country Priest‘ by Nick Browne found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998):

… Examination of the compositional role of the voice-over in the general structure and conduct of the narration, in addition to clarifying the ground of the work’s form and effect, has a special theoretical interest.

As an element of the narration, the priest’s voice-over, like the sound “effects” themselves, is closely related to the construction of the system-character, the impression of a center of “consciousness,” and the mode of transcription of cinematic point of view. By clarifying the structural role of the voice-over in the narration of Diary of a Country Priest, we may see on what terms film continues its affinities with, and proclaims its discontinuity from, literature, and beyond that, we may appreciate more exactly the mode by which cinema both maintains and limits its commitment to the assumptions of psychological realism.

The significant and expressive relations between the voice-over and image in the film are complex. Text is neither a simple commentary on the image, nor is image a simple illustration of the text. Disjunction, independence, interrogation, and even negation of the image, by the sense of the text, is as much a feature as illustration or duplication.

… the narrator, while retaining the power to critique character vision, also assumes the task of structuring that character’s story and of presenting it to an audience. Such a form of agency involves inscribing an implied audience at an angle to the fiction.


… Within the narrative system of character, [verb] tense is only an aspect of the general problem of narrative distance. That linkage and control of two points of view is the underlying formal and compositional issue of the film, and the basis of its power becomes clear not so much in sequences accompanied by speech-narration that repeats what the scenes show (transparency), but in the scenes of explicit disjuncture, when the priest says something to himself that is in conflict with what the image shows (character opaqueness).

[line break added] It is in these scenes that the voice-over technique works most effectively. Early in the film, we see the priest walk forward to a window, his face betraying no particular sign of discomfort. But the voice-over reveals a different state. “I would have given anything this morning for one human word of compassion, of tenderness.” Such scenes are constructed, paradigmatically, on the difference between the opaqueness of visual appearances and the report of the depth of feeling of the interior world.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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