The scene: a car driving at high speed. On a blank road with a desert sun overhead. The distance wobbles with heat. Inside there’s a man at the wheel and a woman beside him. It’s one of those late 60s Japanese cars – boxy and metallic and not very forgiving on the inside. There’s glints and flares flashing off the trim. But it’s oppressive – you can tell she’s been roughed up, her hair’s jagged and falling over her face. She has that look of scared compulsion and she’s holding the dash.
– What’s she wearing?
She’s got a dress on, a yellow cotton summer dress, a one-piece off the shoulders; but the colour looks bleached with the light in the car. They used some special stock or flooded and overexposed the film – everything has that painfully bleached-out look. Excess white light, white heat in a car hurtling along.
– And that’s how it opens? You don’t know where they’re going?
There’s no titles, no music, and not much sound besides the car. Oh and but the guy has a gray suit on, this tight single-breasted with a skinny tie. Which is insane considering how hot it seems. He’s sweating, she’s sweating, you can tell from the POV shots. There’s only about three angles, I think: of her, him, and the road ahead shot over the bonnet. But the suit doesn’t bother him.
– So she was dragged into this, locked in a moving car with a suit.
She’s caught in that fix of anxiety and fear, in a car with a generic thug: suit, haircut, no expression but totally focused on the road. And she’s pleading with him, begging him to stop and consider, to pull over. That intense light on her face, the fear of not knowing where and when, the self-escalation of it. Her voice a near-hysterical pleading.
– Pretty girl in a summer dress in way too much trouble.
And he grunts occasionally, just bare animal commands of negation and non-communication like in those awful Swedish art house movies.
– How long does he hold this scene?
For about twenty minutes, just those three alternate shots. Locked in a car with blazing light and fear. You eventually understand that it’s about money, that she’s willing to do anything to pay off some debt. She keeps using the Portuguese word for loan sharking. But the sweating is equally dramatic and it’s totally authentic, like the sweat means something. First her face is shiny like a film of dampness, but then she’s got a sauna-grade sweat going on. It’s worse than Wages of Fear. Her dress is stuck to her skin and becomes translucent. Her hair is flat and wet over her eyes. And they’re driving, driving relentlessly.
– And so that’s the drama?
Well after demeaning herself and begging in desperation, and reaching that resignation in the face of the inevitable – by this stage it’s pretty confronting to watch, like the director’s playing rope torture with you – this is when the landscape begins to change. They’re in a large container yard by some docks, with repeating rows of stacked containers all bleached of colour. The little metal car like a toy car driving past these solid rows of containers.
– And this smells like denouement…
Well yes, but not in any hurry. He’s looking for a particular place through these metal avenues, with big shipping cranes in the background and the horizon and sea now and then. Still driving too fast, and she saying nothing now. At a gap in the rows, with the car pointing to the waterline ahead, he stops with painful suddenness. His eyes are wide and expressive, almost in shock, as they cut to a direct shot. It’s edited with surgical precision. He’s looking up. She’s silent. Nothing happens, then he violently staggers out of the car into all that outdoor light, framed by these hard container rectangles and looking up at the sun. There’s a jump to him pulling her by her arm, with that slightly demented, dragging walk of the lifeless, pulled along by his volition. And then another jump cut to the open doors of one container and he thrusts her in, elbow-first.
And that’s when it gets weird. It’s like a list, a list of visuals. The montage is timed differently in this bit, like fixed stops on a clock. The container’s brightly lit, which is a big surprise. I mean you know those things are sealed tight and dark when they’re closed, but this one’s a continuity of brightness. It’s like a dream of fixed scenes. Shot one: he rips off her dress by the shoulder, and she shivers as though cold. You see this from behind. Shot two is her eyes in close up, so a reverse angle, and her eyes are completely calm, fixed almost. You see the hard verticals of the shiny metal. So they’ve gone from one metal box to another. And shot three is an uneven downward angle, the suit holding his chest with both hands, still looking up at an implied sun, and he does a neat curtsy-like stumble to his knees, and again, very neatly, he crumples sideways into a lifeless hulk. Collapsing onto himself.
– Heat-induced heart attack?
Well that’s how it vibes. The way the camera frames him, he looks like an executed body, martially dealt with. Shot four is of her, side-on, standing there. It’s one of the longest, slowest takes ever. Slowly turning and realising and then crossing her arms in front of her, compulsively grabbing her wrist, sucking in breaths with random stabs but slowly de-tensing, and gradually walking away and out. To the doors. It’s expansive to see. And she’s still damp with sheen and her body makes all these soft oblique lines against the hard stainless verticals of the container, her black hair streaked with wet.
– And then… fade to black. No – white?
Exactly. But that’s just the visuals I’m describing for you. I’m not doing it justice. When you’re sitting there watching her, with all that light and shiny skin, it feels like the drama’s internal, in your head, and not really in the actors, in the light. It’s uncanny. But it’s a strange contract to make with those visuals.
Text by Rino Breebart