My name’s Eddie Saint-Jean and I’m a director/writer who has recently completed a 15 minute short called Cornerhart. The film stars East End actress Annie Burkin as Kay Shepherd, a divorcee trying to come to terms with a painful divorce by photographing areas of her East End neighbourhood that holds special memories that are dear to her. She plans to move away from her childhood haunts forever, to escape the memories of her marriage, and knows the area will change forever once the 2012 Olympics are underway. Many things in her immediate environment are changing having stayed constant for so long.
The film was an opportunity for me to try out different shots and experiment without fear and use instinct rather than convention. My main aim was to let the characters speak and try out simple shots that allowed them to do this with the least intrusion possible. And I do mean simple shots; long takes that allowed characters to share dialogue without constantly switching to the conventional Character 1, Character 2 shots or over the shoulder shots. Are too many of these switch shots distracting or on the other hand are they now necessary because of our familiarity with that standard? Well I was about to find out. Which was why Ingmar Bergaman’s use of that classic long take in The Passion of Anna seemed perfect for expressing the painful reflections that my lead character Kay wanted to share with the audience. Pretty much every shot has been used by every director before you, so understanding why they used them in the first place is pretty important. Not as homage but effective vehicles for expression.
In Bergman’s scene I was struck by how close ups of a character’s face held by the camera for a long time can actually be both insightful and disturbing because you are actually expecting it to break away into a wide shot, mid shot or cut to another actor, object, anything, and when it doesn’t you are locked in to whatever emotion the character throws at you. Bergman’s long close up of Anna in The Passion of Anna is a signature of his directorial style. He believed that shots of the face and the hands allowed the camera to share the character’s inner self with the audience. This expressive technique was used also in Persona and Cries and Whispers.
Using shots in an unconventional way will get unconventional results, not always good ones but I feel Annie Burkin gives a haunting and moving performance of the character’s personal pain in Cornerhart. CornerHart is nothing like Passion of Anna – the film are two opposites. CornerHart has a lighter feel that sometimes veers into comedy in some scenes but is essentially dealing with emotional pain at its darkest and deepest. Despite the fact both films are so different in content, rhythm and context the long close up shot works in both.