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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005 - 4:46 a.m.

Motorcycle Diaries (Director: Walter Salles, Director of Photography: Eric Gautier)

Ernesto and Alberto travel on a river-boat to the San Pablo Leper Colony.

The camera angle is low over the water, and it frames the silhouette of the ship cutting through the river against a glorious orange sunset. The entire range of the sky is made of up different gradations of orange and brief instances of white. The shot starts from across the ship's starboard (right) bow and moves in a ten-second arc around the front of the ship, ending opposite the starting point. To put it another way, the position of the start and end points of the shot are mirror images of each other, with the line of symmetry down the centre of the ship. The light level in the scene drops as the sky behind the ship changes into an inky blackness, with the slow progression of the camera's arc to face the darkened eastern sky. The ending shot is black on black. It has the ship almost invisible against the sky, its shape defined solely by the running lights dotting the ship's hull and railings. These lights have become visible without the backlit sunset, and have transformed the image of the ship completely.

The utter brilliance of this scene lies not merely in its aesthetic quality, but in the artistic vision of the director. He starts and ends with two images (the ship against sunset and the invisible ship lit by its own lights) which may be argued to be the inverse of each other - one is defined by natural ambient light, the other is defined by its artificial electrical ones. This is a mercurial demonstration of one of the ideals in film: a juxtaposition of contradictions. But nothing has changed in the scene to lead us on the arc from the first image to the second, except for the direction the camera is pointing at - in the short span of time it takes for the camera to arc around its bow, the ship and the setting sun are almost stationary over the water. Thinking more deeply about the scene makes one realize that the travel of the camera, though a technical detail, has metaphorical resonance for the plot of the movie. Like the startling opposite nature of the beginning and ending images, the movie's protagonist Ernesto is also dramatically, even diametrically changed by the end of the film. His journey, like the travel of the camera's arc, is conscious and deliberate.

Salles and Gautier, I kiss your visioned eyes.


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