You can add completely traditional filmmaking elements to your next script, and Celine Sciamma showed us how to do it.
There is no better modern film that catches the eye better than Portrait of a Burning Lady. The film is cinematic excellence that plays with the power dynamic between two main characters, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Héloїse (Adèle Haenel), and their burgeoning relationship.
One scene stands out throughout the film as a central moment in the relationship between the two women. While Marianne tries to paint Héloїse, the two show how closely they have observed each other, and the female gaze transforms the tangible tension into a moment of will they, won’t they?.
Thanks to a Tumblr page that has been translated Portrait of a Burning Lady Lady‘s Script into English, Lessons from the script collapses how Sciamma integrated the camera work and the tempo into their script to create a visual and verbal representation of the changing force between the viewer and the observed:
It’s all in the script
Every cinematic technique used in this scene is written in the script. Sciamma takes all these techniques into account when writing the 10 lines, nine cuts, four shots and two camera movements that are accompanied without music. The conventional structure used in conjunction with simple but effective camera work enhances the narrative.
The scene begins with the setup. Marianne initiates the conflict by saying, “I can’t make you smile. I feel like I can do it, but it’s like it goes away.” This statement causes Héloїse to force a smile that creates tension between what is being observed and the viewer.
Marianne then shows her power and gaze as an observer by listing all of Héloїse’s ticks and using the rule of three – a tool that suggests things happen in threes that match the characters’ emotions. Marianne adds an insult to the injury by saying, “Forgive me. I would hate to be in your place. ”
Héloїse quickly tells Marianne that they are in the same place. She calls Marianne to stand next to her and says: “When you look at me, who am I looking at?” This is the center of the scene and the change of power begins. Héloїse then uses Marianne’s own tactics against her and lists the ticks that Marianne needs to break through her defenses.
The climax comes when Marianne stands in silence and decides how to react. The resolution, unsatisfactory as it may be for the viewer, is when Marianne walks away and returns to her easel.
While the scene is simple when described through dialogue, the camera works just as hard to bring this power shift to life.
The camera movement
The camera works to bring the female gaze to life on a metaphorical and textual level. The scene described by Sciamma is “… an absolutely crucial scene. It is the scene that marks the shot / reverse shot dynamic of the film. What power does the person watching? Who is watching whom? ”
At the beginning of the scene, Marianne is framed in a medium close-up, shielded by the easel corner, while she observes and observes Héloїse. Héloїse is framed in a middle shot that allows the viewer to look at her from Marianne’s perspective. She is vulnerable in this shot as nothing protects her from our gaze.
In the middle of the scene, Marianne steps into Héloїse’s frame. The camera then shifts into a close-up of the two women when Héloїse Marianne’s power breaks. This camera push underscores that Héloїse now has power and demands that the camera turn her gaze on Marianne. A tension builds up between the two women, which leads Marianne to flee from the frame and escape the power struggle as a viewer.
The camera stays on Héloїse when Marianne leaves the picture, and all the audience hears is Marianne withdrawing behind the safety of her easel. Unfortunately, she is not safe from the eyes of Héloїse and the public; the camera moves Marianne even further away than Héloїse was at the beginning of the scene and shows that she is now the object that is being observed.
For the first time in the film, the audience sees Marianne from the Héloїse perspective. You can feel the shift in power between the women, and from Héloїse’s point of view, Marianne appears delicate.
Speed is the key
Dynamic tempo has the power to draw the audience’s attention to a particular character and affect us emotionally. Maybe it makes us feel good or uncomfortable. Most films use a score to tell the audience how to feel, however Portrait of a Burning Lady Lady has no score. All of the music in the film exists in the world of film, so how does Sciamma manage such a brilliant tempo?
Simply put, editing, performing, and blocking create the pace that elicits an emotion from the audience.
All three are used in this scene between Marianne and Héloїse to enhance the narrative experience. Silence is heavily used and emphasized by the actress to emphasize important beats, and the confidence behind her words as deeds and weapons creates a push and pull that draws the audience closer.
The script suggests those long pauses between the actress’s performance with lines of action on the page describing the performance.
Plot lines are usually unusual in scenes like this, and it is up to the actress and director to decide what the plot looks like between dialogues. Sciamma purposely placed action lines to create long beats that evoke emotion in the characters and the audience.
The editing is also important and is suggested by the script. The cut cuts back and forth between the two performances as desired and shows the audience the two women. In the middle, the machining is reversed to show the breaker. When Héloїse asks Marianne to come over to her, the camera stays on Héloїse while we hear Marianne walking across the room. Sciamma creates the sound design in the number of steps that Marianne takes; five steps. These five steps let the audience listen for the final step – a kiss, a retreat, an intense action that breaks our attention. Instead, we stick to Héloїse’s perspective until the audience observes Marianne.
Blocking the closeness of women also shows authority. Héloїse is sitting like a queen when she orders Marianne to come over to her. Héloїse delivers her lines confidently and creates desirable tension between the two women. The script originally said they kiss in the moment of heightened tension, but that has been changed. Instead, this scene collapses that the observer’s power over what is observed is not about dominance. Instead, the women try to find a balance that lets their longings blossom one after another.
Writing a groundbreaking script can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Remember how filmmaking techniques can be used to tell the story without dialogue. Try to suggest the pauses and who and how the viewer should look at each character as they create your next script.
What element are you most looking forward to in your next script? Let us know in the comments below!