A typical dialogue scene in Bonjour Tristesse
  • A typical dialogue scene in Bonjour Tristesse

Regardless of their overall merit, the recent Northwest Chicago Film Society selections Sometimes a Great Notion, Bonjour Tristesse, and The Vikings (the last of which screens this Wednesday at the Patio Theater) are all stunning examples of wide-screen cinematography. It’s not just that the films use wide-screen to emphasize the epic grandeur of their locations; it’s that they employ it as an effect that constantly shapes our view of the action, much like other films employ 3-D. In dialogue scenes, the camera tends to be a little removed from the action; we see the characters from about the waist up and often dispersed across the entire frame. This compositional approach encourages the spectator to consider characters in relation to their environment and to consider the drama as an intricate web of people, objects, and locations. The effect is strongest in Tristesse, as it’s the least action driven of the three films. Otto Preminger deploys the frame to weigh power dynamics between characters while giving equal dramatic weight to each one. Before interpreting the scene, the viewer must first wander around within it—a most pleasurable task.