Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Film About A Woman Who…

Yvonne Rainer’s “Film About A Woman Who…” seems to deal mostly with a woman’s emotional and sexual dissatisfaction within her morose marriage. The placement of identity within the structure of an American marriage seems challenged through Rainer’s vision. Not only are the structures of marriage disjointed, but cinematic conventions are challenged as well. Rainer’s cinematic stylization seems to be influenced by American Structuralist cinema, as well as the French New Wave (especially director Jean Luc Godard). In addition, there appear to be non-cinematic influences such as Merce Cunningham’s modern dance, the Minimalist Art movement, and possibly feminist theorist Gumaini Grur, as well. Reiner intentionally uses a minimalist cinematic form to emphasize the lifeless marriage that the protagonists inhabit.

The characters from “Film About A Woman Who…” seem lifeless and in a zombie-like state. Affection, communication, and sexuality have been frozen as Rainer delves into the mental psychology of this frustrated housewife. In the exposition of the film, the husband and wife appear like statues as they pose for pictures. Through the process of taking photographs and the harmony that pictures suggest, Rainer is already criticizing the façade of martial happiness; the pictures sell us the idea of unity and connection, yet the ending seems to dispel any such notion.

The modern dance piece that concludes the film is comprised of frozen, statue-like movements that seem to symbolize marital paralysis. The harmonious interaction that is usually found between a couple in dance is broken into singular autonomous movements, suggesting isolated forms. However, the dancers are not the central protagonists, so whether or not they mirror the main couple or if they express a universal marital theory is unclear. One thing is for certain though, to understand this climactic ending is to grasp the full meaning of Rainer’s film.

Perhaps, it is this aspect of Reiner’s minimalist cinema that seems to work against the story. As she pushes further and further into the direction of minimalism, it becomes less and less accessible to the audience. The film seems to shift its identity from one form to another, from the narration and the forty-two statements, to an almost apologetic love note for her husband (which is pasted all over her face), and concluding with the modern dance resolution. Furthermore, the film is presented in stagnant shots that are lacking in sync sound and filled with monotonous narration. The deconstruction of cinematic structures (i.e.; sync sound, camera movement, etc.) reminds one of Godard’s attempts at rebuilding cinema through the breaking of conventions. In Godard’s film, “Le Gai Savoir” (aka: “The Joy of Knowledge”), two characters inhabit a theater and attempt to rebuild cinematic expression for the entire length of the film, reminding me a bit of Rainer’s experimental narrative structure. Although Godard’s and Reiner’s films are strong examples of experimental cinema from the 60s and 70s, both efforts may leave one feeling frustrated and puzzled. It seems that director Frank Perry’s attempt to showcase the frustrations of marriage and sexuality for women is stronger realized in the more conventional and accessible “Diary Of A Mad Housewife.”

Although Reiner’s experimental cinematic style may work in conjunction with its unconventional narrative structure, its lack of a cohesive focus challenges the viewer. We are left with not much to hold onto outside of the vague outlines of a broken marriage, or a discontent wife. Unfortunately, the form that I feel this film suffers from the most is minimalism. Though I don’t know to what degree this film follows the form of minimalism or if it is rather through budget constraints. Though the film requires a certain amount of audience patience, this is still a unique film that fits perfectly in a historical timeline of burgeoning feminism and artistic experimentalism of the 70s, while simultaneously opening another door for women directors.

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