Saturday, June 10, 2006


FACES (Part Two of Before the Rain: A Love Story in Three Parts)
D: Milcho Manchevski, Macedonia/France/UK, 1994, approx. 25 minutes.
Source: Before the Rain [VHS 5038]

A young woman is showering – naked, weeping: a title, “2. FACES.” She is Anne, an editor for some photography agency in London. We watch her leaf through photographs oriented around both fashion and war. She gets a phone call and learns that she is pregnant. She meets up with her mother, chats while walking along the street with her before she is interrupted by a man who kisses her; she is embarrassed, but introduces Alex as a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer from the agency who has just returned from Bosnia. Anne and Alex get in a taxi where he tells her that he is quitting photography, to come with him now as he returns to Macedonia, his home. She says that she can’t, that she has to be in London. They grope in the taxi, but in the end, he says goodbye.

We then see Anne in a posh restaurant, obviously waiting for someone and dressed very nicely. A man, Nick, meets her; he is nervous, apologizes profusely, said her mother said she had some news for him. Anne tells him she is pregnant; he first asks if it is his, to which she replies yes. He is thrilled and asks for champagne – but as he tries to celebrate, she tells him that she actually wants a divorce. He is confused and it appears that she is as well. Meanwhile, in the background of this entire sequence in the restaurant, a man has slowly escalated a confrontation with one of the waiters; by now, the two men – obviously foreign – have become too much of a nuisance, start to throw punches and are asked to leave. The maitre d’ asks the patrons to relax. As Anne tries to comfort Nick, the man who started the altercation comes back in the restaurant, pulls out a gun and begins to shoot all around the restaurant. Bodies fly, glass breaks, and the waiter from the altercation falls dead on top of Anne. As the firing ceases, Anne looks for Nick, finds him a ways from her face down. She turns him over, to find him dead with half of his face literally blown off.

On the one hand, this pretty much functions as a stand-alone film. The late, great Katrin Cartlidge is fantastic in teasing out the nuance necessary to bring characterization to Anne in such a short period of time, making us sympathize with her even as she throws away two men who are both clearly in love with her. The film needs to provide the contortions to make us as viewers work to get to her story across in a very short period of time. Much of what is included in this film, however, seems extraneous if discussed just within the context of this section – the fight that goes on in the background at the restaurant and the subsequent shooting that kills Nick, for example. As I describe it above, Anne’s husband dies in an random uprising in London, making Anne’s desire for a divorce both empty and unnecessary for the sake of the story. That we don’t actually return to a shot of Anne after seeing Nick’s destroyed face would also seem as if this short film were not about Anne.

In truth, that is the problem with seriously considering the subtitle of Before the Rain – “a love story in three parts” – to mean that these are three separate films. By the time we get to the altercation in the restaurant, we have already seem one segment taking place between Catholics and Albanian Muslims in Montenegro; hence, we are also aware just by looking at the actors that the altercation in the background has to do with the ethnic unrest taking place in the Balkans in the 1990s. Within the film are two elements that connect it to the other two sections: at her job, Anne looks at a photograph taken of a defrocked priest sitting next to an Albanian girl who has been shot, the key action of the first section, “Words”; the photographer Alex (actually Aleksander) will be the protagonist of the third section, “Pictures,” as we follow him back to his village in Montenegro – the same as the first section – as he witnesses the tense changes that have occurred in his 16-year absence. We may also recognize Anne – primarily because she speaks the only words in English in the first segment of the film – from a very brief moment in the first segment, where she is seen approaching a funeral from afar.

Although I am not entirely sure of this, in 1994, the notion of the “triptych film,” as it were, was still a novelty; indeed, the release of Before the Rain coincided with the release of the more famous triptych film, Pulp Fiction, which were made independently and concurrently (hence, we should assume no influence of one on the other). While the piece as a whole depends on many narrative and/or stylistic constructs of short films that we have already mentioned – a sketched “moment in the life” representing a whole life, the necessity for us to become familiar with a character right away, narrative or stylistic innovation to jolt the viewer’s attention, etc. – the three parts are still very much intertwined. The focus and plot of the film as a whole is deficient without considering all of the parts together. This is as opposed to a true omnibus film like 11’09”01 where, although the arranging of the films produces a prescribed set of emotions and impressions, viewing one film essentially has little bearing on the plot of the remaining films.

As such, I might argue that Before the Rain is something different from an “omnibus film” per se. Borrowing from art history I like the term “triptych film” which implies that each segment is a separate “panel” that still must be considered together as a whole piece. The problem with such terminology is that this would seem to apply only to those with three sections (meaning we might use “diptych film” for something like Todd Solondz’s Storytelling and “polyptych film” for something like Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her [please comment on what you think about this, Christine!]). As such, however, I would also venture to say that all of these films are not omnibus films per se, since the individual sections do not seem to be able to stand on their own. Their dependence on each other changes the purpose of the short film to serve the function of a true feature.

Then again, I’m sure you will have comments about this.

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