The Close-Up and Lighting in GIRLS IN UNIFORM

Screen shot 2013-10-11 at 7.31.24 AM

The facial close-up is an iconic film shot that allows the viewer to see more emotion than almost any other shot due to the level of detail inherent in the proximity of the camera to the face.  There are few close ups in the film, which draw attention to the close-ups that are there due to the contrast, and make them even more meaningful.  The close-ups at the end of the film are particularly poignant, and an investigation into their composition and placement reveals additional meaning.

In my mind, the most striking close-ups come in the last few minutes of the film.  In particular, the single image of the film that holds the most power for me is the close-up fade from Manuela’s face to Fraulein von Bernburg’s face.  It is a markedly different shot from anything in the film up to that point, and, furthermore, is different from most of the shots in film as a whole at the time.  The shot is notable for a few reasons.  First, there is the most straightforward; this fade from Manuela’s to Fraulein’s face indicates a strong connection between the two, perhaps clarifying some of what we have seen thus far in the film.  I think it’s also important to note the similarity in their faces that is pronounced during this fade.  This visual similarity begs the question of how different, or similar — whether in level of power, or on a more emotional level — these women truly are.  The fade also implicates a level of connection between the two that would be clunky if it were told to us, but because it is shown to us, it allows us to make our own conclusions about what it means.  Such is the power of film – we won’t know what the fade means, but it implicates that the connection between the two runs much deeper than that of your average teacher and student, which may have subtle implications for the argument of the presence of lesbianism in the film.

Additionally – because we didn’t get to fully discuss the lighting in class – the extreme low angle shot up the staircase before Manuela climbs over the banister places Manuela, the mental focus of the scene, in a not particularly obvious position.  The other girls are physically larger in the scene as a result of them running around on different lower floors, closer to the camera.  Manuela is at the very top of the stairs, and the frame.  The first time I watched, I couldn’t even distinguish her from the ceiling — and so I didn’t notice her — a choice that I feel is very deliberate.  Lighting and color give us a tremendous indication of the director’s intent.  In this shot, the other girls are not only larger due to the framing of the shot, but they are running around in dark garments, so that their clothes draw our eye to them and their hurry.  In contrast, Manuela is the smallest person in the shot, as she is at the farthest point away from the camera, and she wears white.  Typically, the white of her clothes would draw our attention to her.  However, since the staircase and the ceiling are white, Manuela’s clothing, skin, and hair all blend in with the white of the ceiling, making her difficult to easily notice.  Again, the filmmaker is showing, not telling us, a significant message that we are left to try and decipher on our own. Since this is the only version of the story in which Manuela lives, I feel like the moment where Manuela visually disappears into the ceiling was the director’s way of acknowledging and recognizing the sentiment that the other stories told when she jumped to her death — the idea that deviation from the expected norm should be, or is, silenced.  The director’s stand against this ideal is evident in the fact that Manuela does not jump to her death, but the acknowledgement of the norm gives the fact that she lives even more significance.   [676 words]

— W


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