Cinema is often considered to be an act of viewing. After all we watch films! This is a very restrictive description of an experience that encompasses virtually all our senses. Even the importance of the audio is often overlooked, as it were, although the cinematic combination of dialogue, soundscape, and music (or its absence) in film is always felt.
A very powerful example is the opening film The Guilty by director Gustav Möller, which effectively eliminates one of the senses. It focuses on a single character who is almost continuously the only person in the frame. He is wearing headphones, as he is a police officer on 112 call-center duty. Through the incoming calls he hears and imagines – as does the audience – what is happening in the outside world, the real world that is both brutal and potentially dangerous. By taking away the sense of sight – the officer can’t see what is going on – the sound becomes all the more important. Not just the words that are spoken, but the entire sound design that delivers a compelling and intense thrill.
The cinematic experience touches other senses as well. Besides providing an audiovisual experience, it evokes memories and emotional responses like smell, touch, and taste. Not necessarily in the carnival manner of a fun-park attraction – even though the film industry is very much experimenting with adding features such as chair movement or water and wind effects to spice up high-budget spectacle films. In auteur cinema it is achieved through intensity of story and emotional and rational involvement.
The most touching and emotionally charged conversations in cinema are often the ones where nothing is said – or the opposite of what is meant. A single lingering look can convey more emotion than hours of dialogue. Wealth of color and sound can make our mouths water as senses of hunger or excessive feasting are displayed. Two people searching for connection can make us want to reach out and touch. We often experience other physical responses to emotionally charged scenes as well: joy and happiness, fear, or gut-wrenching disgust.
Through the experience of cinema we feel what a touch means – or the absence of contact. We feel how taste and smell evoke memories and emotional bonding between two human beings. We can have a wide variety of emotional responses to scenes that are in fact no more than the flickering of light on a wide screen – yet manage to convey a complete experience that makes us feel anew. And we find that we use these experiences as new markers for our experiences in real life, in our pursuit of happiness and fulfilment. Our memory is fused with many of these scenes of senses – scenes that make us feel, hear, taste and smell, and see the world and our hearts.
Bero Beyer, Festival Director IFFR
Screening in the Scenes of Senses Program: