Negative Space, Color, Stasis, and A Proxemic Pattern in “Phoenix” (2014)

Phoenix (2014): Christian Pentzold (This is one of my favorite movies, as it incorporates an element of surprise and mistaken identities, and the secret is revealed through music. The ending is also ambiguous. It is a German film.)

Analysis written by: Jenna Moloney

Scene to be discussed: The scene where Nelly leaves the car to see the ruins of her past home. This piece was written with the help of the book “Understanding Movies,” written by Louis Giannetti. I highly recommend this book for anyone studying cinema in depth.

Negative space is used to show the ruins and rubble as Nelly walks through them. Although she never leaves the frame, the focus goes toward the pieces of wood and remains on the ground, as well as what looks like a base of a house, rather than to her. As Nelly exits the car, a long shot is used to show the entirety of the ruins. The camera then switches to a medium shot of Nelly walking toward it; this shot is dramatic because not only is it silent to build tension, but it is also the first time the audience sees Nelly’s face- she appears bruised, tired, and in both physical and emotional pain. This is also shot from a higher angle looking down at Nelly, making her seem powerless. The next cut brings the camera inside the demolished house, making it seem as if the audience is already inside, watching Nelly enter- her eyes never leaving the base of the house. The camera is then brought behind Lene, creating the illusion that the audience is waiting by the car, watching Nelly climbs the pile of bricks from behind Lene. The camera then returns to its original spot, showing a woman wheeling a wagon full of what looks like sticks down the quiet and dreary road. Lastly, the camera shows a piece of broken glass lying on the ground, acting as a mirror. This is the powerful moment when Nelly sees her own face for the first time since she has recovered and taken off her bandages. The camera lingers here for longer than any of the other takes, as Nelly remains almost still, only moving her lips slightly as she stares at the shell of herself. All of these different angles make the audience feel as though they are there, at this sight, with Nelly and Lene. They are feeling the emotions that the characters are feeling as they are just discovering (through the negative space) what they are seeing for the first time as well.

Color is a major factor in what makes this scene come together. The overall mood of this section is dreary and sad. The colors reflect that; there are no colors other than brown, tan, black, gray, navy blue, and the dark red of the bricks that almost looks brown from being covered in dirt. Nelly’s coat is a dark gray, symbolizing her grief, while Lene is wearing a tan coat- a more lively color that shows she has hope and faith in her plan for the future.

Stasis: “The image from Temptress Moon portrays a static world of frozen possibilities” (Giannetti, 98). This quote applies to the stillness of the entire series of takes described above. The static element gives off the vibe that Nelly is hopeless; because she is a Jew, she has no home, she does not own anything, and she does not have a plan for the future. The still, quiet scene subtly hints that all hope may be lost.

Giannetti, on page 107, describes as scene from Hamlet as being “loosely framed, suggesting Hamlet has considerable freedom of movement, freedom to act. But he refuses to use this freedom, preferring to sulk in dark corners, paralyzed with indecision.” This relates to the aforementioned scene as well because all of the takes are loosely framed. Because most of them are shot from so far away, the possibilities of Nelly’s movements could be endless. She could pick up the bricks and throw them. She could run down the pile, crying. She could start digging through the rubble to see if she could find any old belongings. But she doesn’t- she has all the freedom to move around in the loosely framed scene, but she does not.

Proxemic Pattern: public distance. Lene is standing far away from Nelly as she takes in her surroundings and gathers her thoughts. The range is “formal and rather detached” (Giannetti, 82). This shows that Lene does not know how to help her friend through this difficult time, but it also symbolizes how Nelly typically has to deal with her problems alone. (This hints to her struggle in the concentration camp and being the only one she knew making it out alive, and it also foreshadows her struggle alone with her husband, as he does not know it is truly her until the very end of the film.)

All of the different angles of this one action (Nelly finding and walking into the ruins of her old living space) subtly suggest different ideas. The different angles show that Lene never takes her eyes off of Nelly, suggesting that maybe she has romantic feelings toward her. The woman rolling her wagon of debris down the barren road suggests that Nelly may be the last person to ever visit this place once she is gone. The lack of objects in the wagon also suggests that there truly is nothing left of the former neighborhood. The last take, where Nelly sees herself for the first time since her bandages were removed, is very powerful as it shows how scarred- physically and emotionally- the concentration camp has left Nelly. The camera shows this by remaining still for a long time. The well thought-out meaning behind every movement of the camera is astounding.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar