Thursday, June 25, 2009

Your Eyes Never Lie: Wells of Subtext in ' lies'

As per Peter's advice, I read nothing about Mitchell W. Block's short film lies before viewing it, and I too initially thought it was non-fiction.  I wonder how anyone going into this film cold would doubt its validity as real life? lies creates such a strong, improvisational candor through its subject that the viewer feels as if they are witnessing something they shouldn't, watching as a woman delves into a dark place she swore never to visit again.  Waves of emotion rush forward through the eyes of the Woman (played by Shelby Leverington in a master-class of method acting), dancing with the camera back and forth as if looking for some sort of lifeline. Does she find it? A troubling question, and this push pull relationship makes lies a fascinating experience.

At the beginning of lies, the Cameraman films the The Woman preparing for a date, gazing at her in the mirror as she puts on makeup. The Woman's eyes focus on the task at hand, avoiding the gaze of the camera, even going so far as to say how uncomfortable the mechanism makes her feel. Then The Woman moves into her bedroom and the camera follows, as if calmly pestering her in the way a seasoned paparazzi would a tenured movie-starlet. She puts on earrings, tells of an uncomfortable meeting with her mother, and still avoids the camera, which films her via another larger mirror. When the woman tells the Cameraman about the rape, her tone stays the same, casually laughing and making light of the situation as if giving in to the pressure of the camera, possibly hoping it will now leave her alone. But of course, this confession only ups the ante, and the Cameraman keeps pushing the Woman into various stages of revelation and fear. During this progression, her eyes gradually begin to latch onto the camera, forcing the viewer to listen as the details of her experience unfold. By tracking the eyes of the Woman, we get a sense of the devastation deeply rooted inside. It's no surprise the film ends on a close-up of the her eyes, tracks of tears ruining the makeup on her face, imbedded seemingly forever. 

Throughout lies, Block uses multiple long takes to situate the performance in a familiar reality, forcing the viewer to assume some sort of realism is being represented. But the impact comes from how Leverington's eyes avoid this relationship between form and function, deconstructing the idea that everything the camera sees is undeniable and tangible. Her eyes create a performance outside of the film's scope, something that reaches far beyond that apartment, into a subtext that tells a disturbing truth about our own expectation, something harrowing we can't quite put our fingers on.  

- Thanks to Peter and Mr. Block for allowing us to discuss this film.

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