Shadows / The projection of darkness / No.88 project / September, 2015

Shadows suggest contrast, duality, light and darkness. For a cinephile, shadows signify expressionism – with its strong dramatic contrast conveying what could not have been transmitted through dialogue (due to the lack of sound in film, but not only, as expressionism continued to influence filmmakers after the advent of sound). Shadows can also act as a projection of the inner workings of certain morally ambiguous characters and situations, except their contours are slightly more fluid – light turns into darkness and vice versa, drawing the viewer in towards certain existential dilemmas.

We couldn’t have tackled the theme with the quintessential expressionist film, THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, directed by Robert Wiene in 1920. Dr Caligari hypontises Cesare, pushing him towards murder. The film is seen as an allusion to the First World war, while Kracauer wrote that DR CALIGARI reflects a subconscious drive of the German people to be led by tyrants.

If DR CALIGARI can be read as a premonition of Hitler’s ascent to power, Roberto Rosselini’s 1947 GERMANY YEAR ZERO represents Berlin’s “heart of darkness”. The film follows a 13-year-old boy through the ruins of the city in the aftermath of the Second World War, as he confronts several deep moral dilemmas in a context that pushes him to believe morality has been buried with the city.

NAKED, directed by Mike Leigh, transposes the idea of the amoral protagonist to the post-Thatcher period. Johnny (David Thewlis) flees Manchester, heading to London after committing rape. Once in the capital, he spends his time wandering its streets, approaching characters as alienated as himself through ironic – philosophical questions. Mostly shot at night, Mike Leigh’s masterpiece paints a portrait of the UK that is predominantly bathed in shadows, putting us in the position of sympathising with a character who treads the line between scumminess and the most candid / charming (anti-) hero.

We end our month of shadows with John Cassavetes’ SHADOWS. One of the first American films to be produced outside Hollywood, relying heavily on improvisation on the streets of New York, SHADOWS looks at the darkness provoked by prejudice. Lelia and Tony are in love, yet Tony’s behaviour radically changes once he realises that, despite her lightly coloured skin, Lelia comes from a Negro family.