I’ve recently been watching the series The Killing. Based on the Dutch television series, Forbrydelsen (The Crime). I’ve always loved my CSI, problem solving, searching for answers, kind of storylines. I’m a sucker for them. But they’re ten to the penny. Yet, there was something very different about The Killing. Something that lingered underneath. Something like a Siren’s song that called me into it.
That something was breathing space.
The world we live in is at such a fast pace and we constantly need to be stimulated. And yet unlike similar shows, The Killing didn’t solve one murder in one episode, it took the first two series to do that. What CSI does in one episode (usually), The Killing took 26 episodes to do.
The “Time to Breathe” factor is a skill, an art all of its own. It’s when you let the characters carry the story, often without words. Holding onto scenes longer than usual. Giving us, the audience, time to process what is happening. Giving us time to think, but more importantly feel. Much of what we experience in life is based on our feelings. Our body, not words, tell us when something is wrong. When we should run, when we should fight, who we can trust, cinema, for the most part, should do the same. Why else do we watch entertainment at all if not to invoke an emotion.
Giving characters, scenes, and environment the time to breath, in my experience heightens those feelings we crave when sitting in front of the screen. I’ve never cried at the end of CSI, but at the end of The Killing I wept uncontrollably. The breathing space allows you to engage with the characters and study them and each micro expression as if they were right there with you. The old saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ is what we, as humans use as our most basic form of communication. A picture says a thousand words, then how many billions of words are said with one flick of a eyebrow or one look. How many smiles do we have, one for everything possible emotion. It’s these tendril that make humanity what we are. These are some of our basic reactions to the world around us. Good actors know that ‘acting is reacting’, so why would we not want to give the person/character/actor a moment or two to react to the world the writers and directors (and everyone involved in the project) has created.
Like them or loathe them Von Trier, Malick and Winding Refn do this almost effortlessly creating cinematically encapsulating masterpieces.
Getaway or car chase scenes appear in many a film, few (none that I can recall) take the time like this one from Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive.
This scene breathes and is gentle, yet still gets my heart rate up. Although it isn’t the high octane of the Fast and Furious franchise, it still builds tension. We are in the passenger seat, we are the co-driver with Driver (Ryan Gosling), rather than a bystander that sees the action from outside. Scenes like this are driven (pun intended) by the drama and not just the action.
Other examples, and maybe less well known is Factory Farmed by Gareth Edwards. This short was part of the SCI FI London 48 Hour Film Challenge in 2008.
Creating any short film from scratch and completing it in 48 hours is no mean feat. This film is beautifully crafted into cinematic, breathable scenes.
After creating One by One, which is a dialogue heavy film, I look back at my favourite part, and more often than not it’s on a particular section that is emotive, character driven, and breathable.
It might be I have found my metier as a director. The “things”of beauty I want to create. As it is these pieces of beautiful, timeless and emotionally captivating cinema like The Killing, Drive, Melancholia, and The Tree of Life that inspire me. They create a reaction in me. The hope of every director is to conjure a deeply emotional journey for their audience. A journey that will hopefully stay with them for a long time. That every raise of an eyebrow, every glance, every smile will be taken in with each inhale. Breath in, breath out. We just need time to breathe.