Archive for November, 2011

The Departed – Martin Scorsese


to Matei Vlad

I have to start with the short history of the feeling I had when I saw the pre-credit sequence of The Departed.

I first experienced this feeling when reading one of my favorite books; Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before. The master of semiotics swept me off my feet with his use of words to such degree that I read each page two times in a row. It was a double reading in one session. The choice of words, the alternation of short and long sentences, the punctuation, the rhythm itself had the effect of the best cake ever.

I am not comparing a novel with a film but I had the same feeling while watching The Departed. I had to stop it when the opening credits appeared and play it again. I actually watched the movie again as soon as it ended. I needed more of that cake!

D.W. Griffith wrote in 1926 that American filmmaking follows the “human pulse beat”. Sometimes the heart beats calmly, steadily, sometimes races dangerously and sometimes it stops “in moments of pregnant suspense”.

But how should a film director tune in with the audience’s heartbeat? But, more important, why should he/she do it? That’s the whole magic and pain of “cinema d’auteur”, of director’s personal style. Film authors they simply cannot care about the audience, they have to tell the story the way they feel it and if the audience cannot open up to receive and follow the author he just could not care less.

When the gap is too big the audience, feels bored, ignored, annoyed or/and stupid. The filmmaker may feel bad as well; misunderstood and part of an obscure, penniless élite. Thank God all directors have their fans and thank God for “film d’auteur”, the best thing that ever happened to this art!

Scorsese has succeeded several times in combining his personal style with audience’s and studios’ expectations. When audience and studios turned their back on him, he had Time on his side to prove the legitimacy of his esthetic choices.

With The Departed he is back in the gangster business and some of us, snobby, up-tight cinephiles would sigh in disdain: Oh, not again! The premises of the film are even “worse”: It’s a remake of a Hong-Kong movie! With an all-star cast! Run and hide in an art house cinema!

But Scorsese plays the “tune the pulses” game on us brilliantly. He is one of the few who can really master this technique. He starts with a demonstration of his own pulse; opens with a street fight shot in amateur style then a short documentary style sequence and then he hits us with close-ups of significant items, expressive headshots and clean angles and shows the top of the iceberg of a fascinating plot.

He soon takes control of our heartbeat. For the sake/waste of our hearts he accelerates and slows down and even changes the chronology of some scenes, almost imperceptibly, with the use of a childhood photo. How delicate, but what a burden lies now on the previous scene, that happens actually later in the story!

The directing wears the crown in The Departed, even though Jack Nicholson gets to rephrase the Shakespearean line.

When we close our eyes we usually see the most significant image we saw before closing them. We see its negative, whitish and/or colorful shape. After watching The Departed I saw this:

. . . _ .

These are merciless, precise full stops. This is how The Departed ends in structure and substance as well. What are these dots? Punctuation, musical notation and bullets in the head.

The cast is magnificent, of course. The Departed is a star vehicle and everybody gets his/her share.

The story’s ingredients are some of the American school’s classics: Gangster life, father figure, good cop, dirty cop and one gal torn between the two. Yes, the western genre too is invited to add its spice to romance and justice rendering. But love, truth and justice don’t get to bravely ride into the sunset; they sneak out like thieves leaving behind the incriminating mark for those who want to see the sign.

The result is far from being conventional but it may become a classic.

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