Abstraction in Cinema

An understanding of ‘Abstraction in Cinema’ based on the viewing of -

Father and Daughter -Michael Dudok de Wit

Mother and Son — Alexander Sokurov

A Turin Horse -Bela Tarr


The parent-child love is a comprehensively subtle emotion which needs no language to express. Many have tried and succeeded in this superlative task through their medium of choice. For example, consider Valmiki who based a whole epic of Ramayana on the premise of Shravan Kumar (a son) who was killed trying to get water for his ageing parents. Valmiki used writing as a medium to express his definition of a parent-child relationship. Jamini Roy does it with paintings. Her style is so minimalistic, but it still encompasses the bond that a mother has with her child. Probably since this relationship is so abstract, it is best to leave the major part to the grasping power of the actors in play. There are songs to express Yashoda’s concern towards Krishna and Krishna’s love towards Yashoda maiyya. All these examples speak of the interactions between and within a parent and their child. None of them have shown in a direct manner whether one entity loves or hates the other. It is the actions (in the case of Shravan Kumar), the colour palette (Jamini Roy), and the teasing (Krishna), which lures it out from all of us to find out what kind of bond is existent there. The feelings are non-superficial on the medium; the spectator has to really look for the hidden meanings in them which the creator intended. However, the best part of this relationship is that the deciphering completely lies in the mood of the spectator. There is a purpose with which the artist uses his or her mediums in a particular format, there is a set of principles used too, but the outcome that an individual witnesses, is far from the artists’ control. For example, in the movie ‘A Turin Horse’, there is not a single tell where the father shows affection towards the daughter. However, there was a constant hint of forced dependency between the two; even though the father was able of dressing himself, he let the daughter do it, just so they get some interaction in their mundane and hard life.

The medium of abstract cinema provides an interesting perspective on the parent-child love since here too, the feelings extracted from a shot or series of shots are left completely to the relational psychologies of the viewer. For me, a green scenery and hills are the connotations of hope and life. However, in the cinema ‘Mutter und Sohn’, even after so much hope in the heart of the son, the mother eventually passes away. There are quite a few suggestions where towards the end, there is a loss of longing, a sense that all that had to be achieved is achieved and it is now the moment to let go; to let go, not only of expectations, but also let go of the pain that the two of them shared for a long time. This pain was very artistically captured via the two moods in the cinema — the beautiful green scenery, versus the minimalistic and dull environment in the house. The physical pain of the mother and the emotional pain of the son was a good bonding catalyst for both of them. A similar notion is created in the cinema ‘Father and Daughter’ where the daughter yearns for a reunion of bonding even after death. In both the cinemas, lighting plays a major role in steering the emotions of the spectator in a particular direction. The happy emotions are well lit, whereas less lighting or dark lighting, or focused lighting give a notion that something sad is coming up. Same feelings are derived from the background score which uses the highs and lows of a note to produce cheerfulness and melancholy. This can be easily understood from the difference in background scores of the three movies — ‘Father and Daughter’ plays completely along a perfectly chosen background score, keeping the emotions active — ‘Mutter und Sohn’ displays background score in carefully selected areas, to enhance the emotion at that particular shot — ‘A Turin Horse’ has a somewhat constant flow of background score too, but the presence of it is mostly to elaborate the situation or the plot of the cinema.

In abstraction, the story line is very basic; the most fundamental of human values is tried to be portrayed. Due to this characteristic, much focus is given on the details of the parent-child relationship. The details are allowed to be enhanced to greater levels, such that they grasp the attention of the spectator and make them think of the relevance of the tiniest of things which are more than often overlooked otherwise. For example, in ‘The Turin Horse’, the window of the home is showcased repeatedly. The notion of this recurrent occurrence is probably related to the monotony of the family’s life; or also, in a modern thinkers’ way, to the hopes of a narrow possibility of entertainment (a television set). But only because of the simplicity of the fundamental emotion is this not-so-obvious fact given a place and a pause in the pursuit of encompassing such a delicate relationship.

However, I feel that at the end of it all, abstraction is all about the perception of the spectator. If one has a bad history with this relationship, the outcome of the cinema (or any other medium) will be sad; meaning that, however happy the mood is set by the artist, the spectator will be much prone to pinpoint the shots which carry the negative connotations. A similar thing will happen with another spectator, who might choose to see only the positives from the light, the background score, and the characters. An artist tries to depict his or her version of the parent-child relationship, and through the medium of cinema is trying to use motion — in picture, in sound, in light, in emotions — to the best of his or her control and understanding. As a spectator, I believe, abstraction may not be the best entertainment or the best visual, but it brings out the emotions that we humans are afraid to address.

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