Great Expectations (1998)

“Great Expectations” (1998)



space narrative

This film was directed by one o the most interesting visual minds we have working today. Cuarón knows how to work space, he knows how to move around, he knows how to find or/and create spaces that he can explore, moving around them, find the best view points. In these matters, he probably inherits Orson Welles’ investigations of the days he mastered space exploration and architecture framing. That’s where Cuarón’s mind is centered, i think. Whereas Wenders explores in a pure way bi dimensional images, where Kubrick molds films around narrative constructions, Cuarón does it with space.

Having said this, this specific film is not where he does it the more intensely. I didn’t watch this when it came out, and now that i’ve seen it i’ve already seen Children of Men and the 3rd Harry Potter. Here he probably was more constrained and had less latitude to work his abilities. Yet there are moments, attached to spaces, which are pure visual pearls. So, work your mind in the scenes of the Lost Paradise house. Watch how that space is built to be explored, how big rooms exist to make it worthy for the camera to dance with the characters. Watch how the stairway which goes down to the fountain of the first kiss is there to allow the camera to follow characters as a pretext to exploit space. These moments in the stairway are specially Wellesian. The other space explored is the Hawke’s studio in New York. The space is clear and not mysterious in the way we read it. In other words, you perceive it with a single frame, it is opened, and its composition is perfectly readable. But it is very interesting, the lighting and scale, and Cuarón uses it perfectly. I’m guessing this space is real, where the Lost Paradise is a set.

These moments, which clearly were the most impressive in the film, to me, hang on a story. Borrowed from Dickens, the story has to do with the story itself. Characters exist are manipulators or manipulated (or both, in the case of Paltrow’s character). It’s a story about who is telling the story. At least in the cinematic construction (not the book’s), characters exist to serve narrative construction, and i personally think that it is more effective, in cinema, that it goes like that. So we have to main narrators, but we are only aware of one, so is Hawke. That’s the trick, it’s clever and it certainly is effective, at least here.

I don’t like Ethan Hawke, i admit. I think he is untalented and, worse, he is arrogant in his performances. This means that he does nothing, but truly believes he is giving us something everlasting. Well, usually i’m put away from such performances (in the line of Freeman, Redford, latest Cruise…) but here, considering what his character does in the story, being manipulated in double, i have to admit he is a perfect cast. Like the actor, the character believes he controls the game, but is in fact being used.  Gwyneth Paltrow is concentrated, intelligent, and it seems to me that she works hard to integrate her characters, but her work is invisible in the final product. And that’s great…

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb


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