A History of Narrative Film

Je ne peux pas.
            Je suis incapable.

A Romanian woman – cowed, pleading – surrounded by police officers.
She puts her fingers together, puts her hand to her mouth, then she opens her fingers, opens her mouth, signifying:
                                    I can’t.
                                                            I’m unable to.

The beggars prostrate themselves, caps extended.
Get up, she thinks. You are children of God; you do not crawl before anyone.

The flat counterpane. A crossed window. The wall scorched around the plug socket.

Ivana, Prague:
She gestures towards the window. There, she says. Blood all up the glass. The walls. They have a splatter expert. Did you know that? What happened when, according to where the blood is, how it fell, how it was projected.

Katherine looks where she gestures. It’s true, there’s almost a body.

Figure 1.
What happens; how she feels.
Describing the trajectory of her.

Like two children playing next to but not with each other in the playground.
The film cannot read its own characters.

Further, it does not occur to the language of the film that this reading is expected of it.
And yet it proceeds.
The film does happen.

She parks on the raked gravel driveway, opens both doors and turns off the engine. The castle white, neat, a neat flat bay. She unravels the foil and eats the sandwich she’s brought.

The shadow of a deity passes over the water.

The effect of this
The film does proceed.

Characters do emote. Katherine emotes. She is crying in the alley beside the pension. It escalates, she’s weeping, bent double, she’s exhausted, her organism – she – has been through a lot. She weeps until it wears itself out and then she stands here, arms limp, lit by a streetlight, or the moon. She hums to herself.

She takes the small TV off the dining chair. Sit down, she says. He does. He opens his hand, shows her the paring knife he’s brought. You have money, he says. English. His spare hand circles the crown of his shaved head. A young man, knees wide, Katherine standing before him, head cocked, quiet, hands on her kidneys. The way they are held, delimited, by the room, by the frame, by the quiet.

Written small in the grouting of the toilets: Who am I? Beside it: Who cares?

(Her story has no impact on her value as a human being.)

Blood all up the walls, says Ivana. The ceiling.

Her films’ lack of political or social engagement.
Given what is going on in the world.

Images of a war play on the room’s TV. Syria, the Ukraine, perhaps live, perhaps it’s archival. Katherine stands next to the television. She looks at the wall, ready for bed, eating a banana. She hums. It’s a sad noise.

I cannot be afraid of being ridiculous.
You are not embarrassed about the fact that we are ridiculous, are you?

In contrast, Katherine drops some money on his cap and keeps walking. Get up, thinks the filmmaker. Katherine shames her to silence. She leans on the parapet – a bird whimpers past her ear – the shadow of a deity passes over the water.

Isolate the commentary, and put it aside.

Looking out over the bypass, the hills beyond, the underlit cupola of the museum she will visit (green, a green light) strong and clear through the wooded hillside.

We look at the underlit cupola of the K museum. Later, having looked at it, she visits the K museum.

The same scene plays out again from a different angle. But when we should be looking at ourselves, observing the apparatus needed to film that first version, there is no camera there. This cannot be a repeat of an earlier scene.
We were there.
We’d have seen ourselves.

Is it more powerful, more interesting, if she does know the girl who was killed here, or if she doesn’t?

You have money, says the boy. Silence. He is losing his nerve. She sits on the end of the bed, ankles crossed. She looks at her left hand. We look at her left hand. She stands abruptly – he raises the knife – I’m getting some water, she says.

The OED has this for aspen:
A poplar tree with small rounded long-stalked leaves that tremble in the breeze.
Aspens then.

She walks clear of the long underground passage. Two children are playing in the groundwater between two escarpments. It is a burial ground, which is not problematic or symbolic or triumphant.

It is important that her working notes are later expunged of all this explication so that by the time she meets the woman who is to play Katherine the two need only sit in silence for two hours with the camera rolling.

She walks clear of the long underground passage. Two children are playing in the groundwater between two escarpments. Terezin. She watches them play – clouds scour the sky – there are artefacts in the museum. A ragged shoe, a doll, a spoon. Steel rings, shoulder-height, screwed to the wall.
Things. Artefacts. Groundwater.

A double row of aspens (preceding the history) tremble in the breeze, the sedate path between them centring a sightline, giving it poise.

A narrative of empty frames that we can only mourn.

She parks between two trucks with Slovakia written on plates in the windscreen. Perhaps that’s where she is – Slovakia. It would make sense, she’s been driving a long time, days. Mist floats on the river. Autumn. Echoes. A valley.

Characters do emote. Katherine emotes.
And certain rules are adhered to.

Clear examples of this:

[                                   ]

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Infer a relationship between Katherine &c.
She kneels before an arch carved into a protruding rockface, its back wall a chalky yellow wash, a scene painted over it, faint, faded. A winged cherub gazing upwards, Our Lady hovering over him, robed and serene, making the sign of okay (or worthless) with her fingers. A crunchy yellow rose on the stone shelf, an empty tea-light, its wick a blackened nub. She flicks her lighter and the damp wick sputters, a flame pears to life, flares, dies.

Sometimes we are left grasping. What is the relationship between this body of water, the bay to which she returns, the life of Christ &c.?

Emotional responses shaped by or at least interacting with the things that happen. And this correlative trajectory describes the story of us. The actress
regards her.
Show me the gaps [says the filmmaker].

There, says Ivana. Legs splayed, head cocked. A flat counterpane, a crossed window. She is right:
            There’s almost a body.

To know someone: To be able to predict, with a fair degree of confidence, how that person will react in a given situation. No, we might say, that doesn’t sound like her. Or:
Yes, that sounds like Katherine.

Her chalky aloe deodorant. Her tan leather boots. A black heart – thumbnail – tattooed on her hip. Aspens.

An American horror movie with Austrian subs. It’s silly, but yes, it’s enjoyable anyway, because we are here with Katherine, because she is enjoying it. Because of the violence that led to this moment. Because of the dead girl – whoever she was. Because war played on the television and she hummed, sadly, eating a banana.

And how easy it is.
To love someone.

We become fluent, we are fluent in this film, and there is a kinetic recall:
            The boy.

We are not watching a saint, and that’s good.

But how peculiar that we should need reminding of that.

It is the sanctification of a woman who doesn’t deserve it,
until we strip the language of cinema of all judgment and realise deserve has no meaning. Katherine exists, and that’s true.

A description of –
which –
is necessarily unfathomable. Like a poem made of household objects, placed side by side under a glass display case, unsure of the context in which they are presented, or by whom.

The concertina door squashed open. A mildewed packing crate in the stall. The showerhead leans against the tiles with a broken neck. Tepid water sketches dribbly lines down the wall. She presses herself against

She wipes a throwaway razor across her legs and stands in the stall trying to bend the sprung plastic and free the blade.

And how easily this is done. How easy it is to love someone.

The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass.
            —Simone Weil.

A list of dead-ends: Psychology, character.
Katherine sitting on the flat silt bay, Orlik. A crossed window. A flat counterpane.

Occasionally, the film is astonished by its own capabilities. There is a knock at the door. We cut from K to the door, back to K. She looks at her hands. We look at her hands. Astonished by itself (the film), by this power (the edit).

Such moments [however] are rare.

Ivana points at the wall, the paper scorched around the plug socket.

Describing a trajectory we could sensibly call, The Story of the Filmmaker’s Life:

He opens his hand, showing her the paring knife he’s brought. Sit down, she says.

A saucepan on the draining board of her neat kitchenette, a white dinner plate angled against it.

In a few successive shots, kinetic, kineticism.
He bear-hugs her; they fall. She squashes her blunt teeth closed on his throat.

Such dishonesty around violence; a plague of it.

People die, and that’s true.

She walks briskly down Na Porici, a sky like wet ink. She marches into an off licence, takes a can from the fridge and leaves the wrong coin on the counter. A wolf howls at the moon.

Her body ought to be washed. When she’s hungry she fries two eggs and eats the hard yolks with a teaspoon.

A full moon hangs suspended in the clear black sky.

It never occurs to her how lonely she is. And tired. Her body is tired. She’s bent double round the side of the pension, weeping. Her organism – she

Ivana shows her the blood. She directs it to life. Here, she is saying. And here.

In the habit of reading, we read. Portraits on the wall, the writer’s circle. Some died young, like the writer himself. The remaining death-dates flash in quick succession. History ended with these men. And yet, here she is. She looks at the manuscripts under glass. Maybe she reads German, maybe she doesn’t. Either way, she looks.

A woman washed clean. A woman without judgment.

She wipes a throwaway razor across her legs, under her arms, closes the taps and stands dripping in the [squalid] bathroom. She tries to break the razor but the plastic bends. She uses her teeth, extracts the fine blade, crouches, tucks the blade into her jeans and sits on her heels. The strip-light blinks. She sucks her bleeding lip. She is here, and that’s true.

Expunge all the adjectives
            from your film

Strip the language of cinema of all judgment, and realise deserve has no meaning.

She wanders the corridors with her wrists crossed over her chest, blood scattering around her, marking her passage. Violence:

We point a camera and sit on the bay. The open notebook, a crossed window. She directs the body back to life in order to demonstrate where it died.

The shadow of a deity passes over the water.

History ended with them,
and yet

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