The exchange of gazes between two people people observing their surroundings, are often connected to a quality we like to call «cinematic». The obviously cinematic character of the gaze is confirmed in two films currently being screened: “Carol” (Haynes, 2015), which for long sequences floats like elegant, wordless exchanges of gazes between supressed feelings, and “Son of Saul “(Nemes, 2015), which puts us face to face with one of the victims of the Holocaust and his struggle to keep his composture while witnessing the things happening around him.

Saul in the latter of these films, a prisoner working in a concentration camp in Auschwitz, has to use his eyes in order to orient himself in the machinery of death, but in reality wishes that he was couldn’t see. «It would’ve been much easier if you didn’t understand», he tells a fellow prisoner while starting into his bowl of food. Saul has chosen to concentrate on death rather than life. Death is seemingly the only thing left saving. His body, his gaze and his thoughts are completely focused on it – for instance, obsessed with how to bury a boy who has been strangled by the Nazis, a boy he believes to be his son. Saul tries to make himself blind to – or put up a personal, almost absurd resistance to – what is happening in life, and the film glues us to his face of denial.

“Son of Saul” shows how there is also a strong cinematic potential in the opposite of the eye’s field of vision. Films can also create an eye for what is surrounding, what is outside our field of vision – an eye for absence, an eye for what we cannot see or choose not to see. An eye for blind spots, and even – as in “Son of Saul” – an eye for death.

Absence and silence. During this years’ French documentary film festival Cinéma du Réel, which took place in Paris 18-27 March, the international short film program reminded us of this.

In the opening of “Al haffar” (Cherri, 2015), a meditative film about graves in the Arab Sharjah Desert, a poster reads: «Sometimes, the most terrible place is the place where there is nothing. Where nothing has yet happened.» In the image to follow, we see a person with a torchlight, walking through a vast darkness. We hear the sound of his steps as if we were close to him, but visually, he’s just a small spot in a dark eternity (we know that the darkness extends beyond the frame), illuminated only by his own light source.
“Exile exotic” (Litvintseva, 2015) also reflects over the absence of something somewhere: Over neatly composed images of a copy (in real size) of the Kremlin (now in the form of a Turkish hotel), the director reflects around his and his mother’s exile from Russia, ad how parts of an ideological construction has been buried and rebuilt as a copy. Some of the director’s reflections, in adittion to the above quoted opening lines in Al haffar, are refelected in Il caffè si beve bestemmiando (Brandi, 2016), an observation of two immigrant children’s meeting with racism in Italy.

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