Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 5, No. 2, 1992
Film: Matters of Style
Edited by Adrian Martin

A sequence from Avanti

Alain Masson


A man comes to Ischia to collect his father's remains. On the way, he meets a woman who is about to do the same for her mother. The deceased are victims of the same car accident. So is a morgue scene obligatory in stories like this? Undoubtedly, though for complicated reasons. But if Billy Wilder tells the story, there is no hesitation on this score: his impetuous bad taste drives him straight to this morsel where his vulgarity (that is to say, his depth) is satisfied by a healthy and attractive dish, left over for him by a crowd of guests who were either scared off by its protein-content or else restrained by good manners. Accordingly, this macabre sequence takes up more than twelve minutes of the film's total duration of 2 hours and 23 minutes.

But this choice is hardly justified simply in terms of the artistic taste of a director who is steeped in all things macabre. Could we, then, try to establish the balance sheet which Wilder himself was spared in his gusto to indulge? To do so, we will have to find the parson's nose, inspect the flesh, count its fibres, discover its flavour and weigh up the aftertaste. None of this really has much to do with feasting or cooking, but there's nothing to stop us from believing in its virtues as an appetizer.

At first glance, the funeral sequence seems to have an indispensable cohesive function in the development of the story. Without necessarily wanting to track down non-existent minimal narrative units, let us at least borrow some terms from the formalists: the retrieval of the bodies takes place; the sequential logic of the motifs therefore demands that such a scene be shown. 1 There is, however, some possible leeway in the application of this ruling. If motivation is, to some extent, only a weak copy of strict determinism, then it's possible to suddenly replace a specific event with a variation or something unexpected. Such clever devices are the essential ingredients of a captivating tale. For a narrative to be elegant, in fact, it is of paramount importance that its crucial motifs be played down. Because they are so necessary, they are taken for granted and we may feel it best to summarise them. Because they are logically determined, they are implicit and may be replaced by ellipses. But in cinema, there's a radical alternative: since narrative summary can only be introduced through speech, the choice is either concealment or direct exposition. It follows that the reasons for showing something tend to be conflated with those for hiding it.

Yet the unavoidable global quality of filmic representation might just present us with a way out of this dilemma. If the mortuary sequence does take place, walls, clothes and action will have to take on colour, form and style. Verbal narrative, of course, must to a certain extent follow a similar rule. But although it can't reach an unthinkable level of pure narrativity, it closely approaches a certain neutrality and this leads to a form of fiction where motivation alone holds our interest. Stendhal's dream was to write in the style of the legal code. The aim, in other words, is to avoid all dangerous semantic supplements which make one choose 'tumble', 'drop' or 'take a dive', rather than the more sober 'fall'. In the olden days, Robbe-Grillet proposed this type of objectivity. But the proliferation of different aspects which cinema offers seems to be irreducible: who would want to banish or stamp out such a world of feeling? When given an organised form, these fragments of meanings - seemingly unconnected to the narrative - constitute the field studied by literary critics under the name of themes. The officer-in-charge can be sluggish or alert and it doesn't hold up the advance of the plot. At the same time, a qualification or visual quality might well give new meaning to the episode.

But alas, the material which can be thematised in a film is so rich as to be a problem. The visual characteristics involved in turning motifs into concrete reality are so numerous that motivation and thematisation leave behind a heavy residue of pure material existence. Before being this or that, these things simply are. The phenomenal world is, nevertheless, not as important as people like Andre Bazin once thought. It does not lend quality or originality either to a specific film or to cinema in general; because the phenomenal has to do with the familiar and the unoriginal rather than with renewal and change.

Wilder demonstrates his art in the thematic treatment of the sequence in question (which shows the formalities at the mortuary). The uninterrupted and enlarged view the film offers of the event allows for a multiplicity of visual aspects which do not immediately bear on the forwarding of the action. It is true to say that the motif it conjures up was anticipated all along - but its concrete realisation is such a rich one! A risk still remains then: precisely that of creating a sequence by randomly multiplying ready-made effects and details. As a result, the reasons for enlarging the motif turn into reasons for reducing it.

The decision will therefore depend on strategic motives. By its very silence, an ellipsis would mean leaving out a remarkably tangible part of the argument in favour of a highly obvious organisation of the motifs. As all those viewers who like to play with narrative would know, since this kind of sequence can make or break a film, such a passage cannot be reduced to narrative neutrality: how could a moment which introduces something so fundamental be left in such fluidity? Wilder backs the most dangerous solution because it is the only one likely to produce the goods. Neither Hawks nor Lubitsch, filmmakers for whom he worked as a script~writer, would have taken the bull by the horns in such an unsophisticated and daring way. Because the motif in question is obviously there and because a thematic development might be too shocking, the balance sheet so far tells us that a style will be confirmed by the success of such a sequence only insofar as it is developed to the fullest possible extent and approached without the customary discretion for such things. The mark of Billy Wilder's genius is to be found in his sheer insistence.


The skill lies in an ability to relegate to meaningless residual matter any element imposed on the sequence by the motif, while nevertheless thematically twisting anything which can possibly be rescued from such mere presence. One cannot speak of this reality without betraying the style of the passage: naming these objects would amount to giving them a determinate truth. The funeral context must therefore be defined in totally abstract terms. Granted, nothing is missing - half-light and symbols of mourning, flowers and shroud, a cold density to the walls and an ingratiating civil servant, condolences and paperwork - everything is in place, but only, it would seem, for the mechanical observation of duty. The unfolding funeral events draw these things into the picture without drawing them out of their silent inertia. So it should come as no surprise here that the macabre never undermines the comic impact.

The starkness of the decor (an extremely unusual feature for those who happen to be familiar with hideous North American funeral parlours) is now easily understood. We can discern the outline of the bodies under the white sheets, but there are shots which assimilate these white spots to the shining surface of the table. Nothing is ever seen of the bodies as such; they hardly assert their presence at all. They are there out of sheer necessity - it has nothing to do with pornography or correct morality. Armbruster stands grumbling for quite a while between the catafalques but then he motions everyone to leave as he realises where he is standing. These neutralisations are positive in several ways: without being heavy, Wilder firmly returns the world of death to its unutterable reality - and he does this not only so as to materialise death but also to assign these visible-but-unobtrusive objects to the domain of the obvious and the uncontrived. The funerary objects give the narrative motivation away crudely and directly - they only show the essential elements.

The way the coroner, Mattarazzo, is portrayed makes the process quite obvious. If we just consider his narrative function, he seems to be the product of a narrow logic and ends up lost in redundancy. All clad in black, the undertaker carries around an extremely dignified demeanour which easily becomes an interminable string of polite cliches. There is but one event which is his alone: the fact that he arrives late, rather pleasantly excused by his gastronomic relations with a bevy of widows - which in itself is a perfect syllogism. Only condolences can show on his mournful face. Still, he does do his job, but this is only exposed to a limited extent: his vehicle is black but it's a Vespa! He makes speeches, but only in Italian and is forever interrupted! His lateness does not even prevent the ceremony from starting at four as planned! For all his imperturbable automatism, this skinny and insignificant figure does not even symbolise the idea of funereal ritual: indeed on the way out, his pants get wet. Here the typological starvation of the motif actually feeds the theme: even though he fails in his efforts to be ostentatious, and even though this makes him a colourful figure by constantly underlining his mechanical rhythm, he nevertheless still functions. He fulfils his duties quickly and efficiently without making it too obvious - his mechanical ways effectively cover up his efficiency.

The same thought process lies behind the use of the flowers: we should not be surprised, come to think of it, that Armbruster did not bring any with him and that he does not feel embarrassed at the oversight. Pamela, however, shares her bouquet with him. This 'event' cannot be recognised as such because it fills a gap that had gone unnoticed. In the same way, when the protagonists enter the chapel, the bell seems to be tolling a knell; this compensates for a lack in the ritual but without definitely revealing the ceremony to be such: it's four o'clock and that is all there is to it. More importantly, Armbruster takes the opportunity offered by the sequence's predetermination to settle some business with Carlucci. By substituting a motif which is potentially pregnant with innovations for an expectable one, in this way, Wilder emphasises the obviousness of what is left unsaid. In this respect, the process is similar to an ellipsis, while its artifice makes it a superior technique.

Carlucci's and Armbruster's constantly dignified composure fits the context of an action narratively close to degree zero: namely, attending a funerary formality. Yet this composure (better observed by the Italian than the American) is limited to their clothes, the rigidity of their backs and a slight effort to tone down their voices. Beyond these negative gestures, the innkeeper's cunning and the orphan's restless cynicism are made quite evident. Stylistically, however, the set-up is more complex: although the two men pay little attention to the scene, although they are only there out of a weak and casual respect for protocol, the scene actually solves one of the administrative problems they are concerned with at this particular moment. This suggests a criticism of forethought: Armbruster suffers from tomorrow's ailments today and does not realise that present ailments disappear at the very moment they are materialised. As far as the motif's rhetoric is concerned, it should be noted that the substitution is one of identical terms: the mention of an unresolved problem is used as a solution for an analogous one. This is indeed a very clever way of playing with the flexibility of narrative order. When the identical hides the same, the obvious becomes exposed at the very time it escapes us.

In this way, the bland rendering of the expected motifs is both performed and covered up. As far as the necessary elements of the story are concerned, the sequence is both functional and non-operative. In short we can say that it is both vacant and full (qu'elle vaque).


Wilder thus avoids certain obstacles, but such a side-stepping has a positive value which retreating or escaping would have denied him. In this way, death is both materialised and at the same time shaded with denial. This ambiguous relationship is very characteristic of a filmmaker who once put the emphasis on a corpse only to turn it into a narrator (Sunset Boulevard, 1950). More importantly, and for all its empty conspicuousness, the presentation of the narrative motif acts as support for a wealth of thematic developments.

Here is how the narrative unfolds: (1) Armbruster arrives at the mortuary, surprised by its architecture, in the company of Carlucci; (2) at the entrance, and while Carlucci questions the attendant about Mattarazzo's lateness, Armbruster meets Pamela who tells him that her flowers are daffodils - he asks for her discretion; (3) Mattarazzo pompously introduces himself; (4) the uncovering of the two bodies begins - and Pamela shares out her flowers between them; (5) while Mattarazzo stamps his papers, Armbruster talks with Carlucci; they are interrupted when the mourners are called back for signatures; (6) after Mattarazzo has left, Carlucci and Armbruster resume the conversation interrupted in (5), but Pamela stops them to make a suggestion which is immediately rejected by Armbruster; (7) left alone, Pamela takes out her handkerchief...

This segmentation is not too arbitrarily formulated. The use of subordinate and coordinate clauses reproduces objective sequences: there is continuity either in the shot or in the formulation of the dialogue. Thus, except in segment (4), the units link the expected unfolding of the story to peripheral elements and vice versa. It is then possible to play with the division of motifs, which is itself either euphemistically obscured by adjuncts or else followed surreptitiously like a kind of litotes. Its affective emphasis therefore remains unclear and this non-definition of the sequence gives way to ambiguity.

The seven divisions in the summary above correspond to slight but definitive breaks in the film material such as jumps through time or space, the entrance or exit of a protagonist, a move from outdoors to indoors, and sometimes several of these simultaneously. The critical point is therefore the disruption brought to the characters' spatial relationships. The fact that this is a key formal element of the sequence is underlined by the use of an interpreter (Carlucci) who not only emphasises the distance of the foreigners from the funeral arrangements but also underlines the paradoxical lack of understanding which dominates the relationship between them. At the end of the sequence, Carlucci acts as interpreter between Pamela and Armbruster who, by this point, in fact understand one another only too well - she hears him call her 'Fat Arse'! The scene's architecture thus underlines the importance of the communication channels.

This division, moreover, turns the crucial motif (4) into an axis of triviality around which the three segments on either side can become prominent by virtue of certain narrative additions. Finally, the way transitions are organised adds value to the construction of the sequence: they always contain one of several silent shots strongly marked by a kind of symmetry. The chapel's monumental image both opens segment (1) and separates it from (2). It is used again between (2) and (3). It announces the entrance or exit shots articulating the spaces between (3) and (4), (5) and (6), and (6) and (7).

At first, these transitions associate the mortuary with the surprise of beauty. They give the sequence a slightly religious aspect. In an almost progressive way, axis shots locate the doorstep (1), the porch (1-2), the nave (3-4), the chancel where the dead are laid (6-7), the altar where Mattarazzo officiates (4-5), to mention only the most notable associations. This is how the theme of burial or funereal ritual emerges, eventually taking over the motif of administrative formality to which the sequence can be objectively reduced. Because Armbruster only considers the monument with disbelief (1), the architectural theme comes to be linked to the idea of Italian culture as opposed to American barbarism. Hence it is further linked to the charm operating in the landscape panoramas in sections (2) and (3). Pamela's otherwise strange action - opening the blind and the window (7) - can only be explained in this context. To raise interest in the landscape in a macabre scene like this is a telling antithesis: landscape and death seem to compensate for each other. Formally, this illustrates the cross-play between residual reality and motivated elements: the former becomes organised - hence it emerges as a theme and attracts attention at the expense of the latter. All that is needed is Carlucci's clever remark about the age and pristine condition of the monument. The most important feature of this theme is that it excludes Armbruster. As opposed to Pamela, who brings flowers, and to the Italian protagonists, he stands out as an intruder. The Italian theme, like the close communication network, precipitates the businessman's bitter and aggressive isolation.

Secondly, the sequence's architectural organisation links the arrival of the pink van bringing Carlucci and Armbruster with that of the black Vespa: a symmetrical shot brings them together as if to suggest the absence of a hearse. Indeed Oliver Eyquem called his very clever review of the film "Le Rose et le Noir" ("The Pink and the Black", Positif n.155). With its solemn emphasis on the sequence's points of articulation, this organisation goes beyond the mere marking of boundaries and performs a constructive role: the division between sacred and profane creates a rhythm of devotion, it discloses a pattern of ritual. The outcome is a double one: the administrative formalities actually turn into a funeral ceremony. This liturgical meaning does not, however, rest so much on the event of the funeral as on the repetition of a symmetry. As a result, the formalities are left open to alternative thematic interpretations.

In the same way, the symmetry permeating phases (4) and (5) does not depend so much on the idea of the funeral (vague as it still is) as on a feeling of solemnity which pervades the beauty of the place - the harmony, the easy flow of a ritual which therefore comes to acquire a meaningful and circular quality. Rather than evoking a hypocritically correct respect, the breadth of the whole movement invites us to imagine a deeper condition of possibility - as if nature and custom themselves were organising this liturgy, addressing it only to themselves. Although the protagonists don't know it, the formality of the sequence immerses them in the most fundamental aspects of human life, as befits any ancestor cult.

Finally, this symmetry reinforces an asymmetry. The order in which the characters leave effectively reverses the order of their entrance. Two asymmetries, however, disrupt this structure. Firstly, when they leave, we can no longer see the people who stood nobly on the staircase earlier. Secondly, while at the beginning we follow Armbruster, the camera dwells on Pamela at the end. These related modifications are critical. They underline the heroine's emotional attachment to the spirit of the place, so that the promise of Italianite and profundity held by the landscape only needs to be repeated by the opening of the window to show its non-fulfilment. The gratuitous beauty of the incoming light stands in for that return to the world which would be implied were the symmetry to be continued.

Thus a suspense remains. The ceremony appears unfinished. Although it seems to be forming a circle within the narrative order, the mortuary sequence is not completely closed: (1) and (2) have no counterparts in the second half. The imbalance in the thematic treatment of the sequence means that it is not self-cancelling; while, in the better known domain of motif, there is virtually no remainder at all. To this whole effect, we must also add a transfer of viewpoint: the mise en scÉne ends up focusing on Pamela who until this point has been treated as an intruder (again, as (2) showed and (6) seemed to confirm). Throughout the sequence, however, the thematic concept of communication is carried by the fact that Armbruster cannot speak with anyone - he can only speak to, not with - his language, his haste, his aggression, his rudeness all prevent it. The next sequence shows him with a dictaphone - and his soliloquy is juxtaposed against Pamela's silence. By disqualifying Armbruster, the narrative order completely excludes him from participating in the mourning scene (which is what the undertakings turn out to be in the end).


As we can see, the scene is incredibly effective. It yields themes as unexpected as the landscape's beauty or the genuine worship of the dead. At the level of theme, it prepares the ground for later narrative events: the focus on Pamela marks her as the protagonist of the scene where they walk through Ischia; the American's anxious isolation makes a conversion to Italy's easy-going ways an obvious plot possibility; while the unfinished ceremony predicts the actual funeral at the end.

The central theme, however, is obviously that of marriage. Pamela Piggot is waiting for her fiance at the church door. In her hands, she holds her bridal bouquet. In front of two witnesses, the man and the woman each answer "I do" to a question from the celebrant; and, as befits the situation, one of them seems to hesitate a little. After consent is given, the spouses sign the papers. A whole serious of harmonic overtones supports this suggestion of a marriage: white veils are lifted, the set is organised through various doublings, an elegant and scrupulous arrangement couples official seals with rubber stamps (cachets et tampons), the sun shines on lightly coloured walls. Mattarazzo's behaviour is the most revealing. All his movements are meaningful, either by their parallelism (he simultaneously pulls two similar objects from his pockets; he hands out a pen to each of the signatories who, accordingly, proceed to sign in perfect synchrony), or else by their symmetry (his style of movement is both generous and agile, so that every gesture is endowed with a high degree of autonomy yet never loses credibility - thus the action appears realistic even though it happens to reverse the expected order of events). In this sense, rolling something out (replier) can look like a reverse rolling up (deplier). Indeed, according to this logic, picking a sponge from a saucer is equivalent to placing it on a saucer: that is if we forget that sponges can soak up water with remarkable spontaneity. The result is a Rabelaisian gag, so common at wedding receptions as to leave no one surprised. In any case, the protagonist acting like an automaton is not done just for amusement. His agility not only gives the passage the joy of an epithalamium, but its binary rhythm surprisingly realises the symmetry which dominates the character - through the repetition of the rapping sound of his rubber stamps. Ordered to hurry up by an impatient triple click of the fingers from Armbruster, Mattarazzo simply changes the original spondaic measure (tac tac) to a complex form in which the first tribrach is used to balance the final spondee (tic tic tic tac tac): three quick notes plus two long ones. This magnificent solo for wooden and rubber stamps, with its simultaneous chiming and dancing, offers a pleasant contrast to both the mournful toll of the bell which, just a moment before, sounded four o'clock and to the non-descript backfiring of the funereal Vespa.

The ceremony, however, is also a wedding in reverse. The bride is dressed in black; the spouses enter arm-in-arm and the husband leaves alone; it is at the end that the bride waits at the altar. The man gives his consent first. The bride lifts a veil, but it's a shroud and the farewell glance at the parents is a very final farewell: the new bride shares out her bouquet; the dead parents are the ones dressed in white.


The scope and meaning of a metaphor which includes its own reversal are worth clarifying. Collapsing wedding and funeral is certainly not a new symbol. The sacrificial Iphigenia was described by Lucretius as a new bride (De Natura, 1, 84-89) while Hugo was fascinated by the connection between marriage and death: "Sleep the chaste union of the sepulchre", as he put it in Les Contemplations (4, 17, 74). In Avanti!, as in Barthes' Michelet, mud baths are both burial places and aphrodisiacs.

Here the reversal of the ceremony suggests a posthumous wedding which prepares the ground for Pamela's proposal scene (6): burying the two lovers together, an act which will be realised at the end of the film. The living and the dead are united in a knowing glance which, on the young woman's part, is markedly reflective. The glance also transfers the value of the consent-to-marry to the dead. A few apparently negligible details are part of this theme: the mise en scÉne stresses these glances, thereby establishing a communication channel; the respective positions of the two corpses, homologous to those of their children, is emphasised - the woman is fittingly shown lying to the left of her lover, on the side of his one good ear (the importance of this arrangement will become apparent later during the dinner scene and the burial scene); the fact that Pamela hesitates, that she refuses to be thanked for sharing her bouquet, that she asks for the lights to be turned on in the mortuary chamber when she takes out her handkerchief - all of this indicates her participation in the solemnity of the occasion without really understanding it. A feeling for ritual, a sensitivity to landscape, and an acceptance of illicit relationships become, from then on, part of a single theme - namely the affirmation of life and, hence, of death.

For the living, the ceremony, moreover, implies some kind of worship: death's ritual is also a ritual of love. The daffodils which, in the language of flowers, are associated with melancholy, may also - since Wordsworth - convey the idea of undying memory. Armbruster's inability to recognise these flowers shows his refusal to immerse himself in the full depth of the ritual: what he lacks is any trace of human warmth which can blur strict boundaries in the name of feelings. In the same way, while Pamela hears the condolence music (it's plainsong but she confuses it with opera, thus conflating all things sacred and sentimental), the American can only click his fingers. The bridal bouquet, shared between the dead, nevertheless becomes a kind of magic word: forced to give Pamela an Italian name, Armbruster introduces her later as "Mrs Tromboncini", re-using the word she had first used for the daffodils. A token of mourning becomes a lover's mask and the love between the dead follows its course among the living. The floral theme is enlarged to the point where the radiating petals of Pamela's black hat foreshadow the daisies printed on the dress she later borrows from her mother's wardrobe. The bridal bouquet therefore generates a manifold link between life and memory, love and death, parents and children. In this sense, the Trotta brothers will be right to use it as proof that the corpses have been stolen.

The posthumous wedding seems therefore to exist only as a contrast to the morganatic one whose celebration it makes imperative: the way in which the dead impose their position and their answers on the living becomes meaningful only if they also pass on their love to them. The dead take the living over. As a result, we perfectly understand, without being conscious of it, the mutual implications between Armbruster's filial love and his feelings for Pamela. This sequence both displays and connects the "three love stories - that of the parents, that of the children and that of the father and son" mentioned by Wilder (Positif, n.155). The reversal of the ceremony and the asymmetry of the sequence are tied up together: it is because the children marry their dead parents - but without reciprocation - that the theme seems to remain unresolved.

The ritual may perhaps raise some problems. At this point, it must be noted that it can be a dutiful funeral only to the extent that it constitutes an unlawful marriage and vice versa. That is to say, in this ritual, the symbols are homonymic or polysemic only because of (and in order to produce) its ambiguity. The church, the vows, the signatures, the ceremonial dress, the flowers are not given a funereal function at first only to be altered later, to take on a nuptial meaning only then. On the contrary, they are always distinct from the motifs one expects in any sequence dedicated to macabre formalities. Steering clear of this association is precisely what allows the meaning of the episode to be so diffuse and indeterminate.

Why is it like this? Some themes in fact act as hidden motifs: as in classical tragedy, this dreamlike scene predicts the film's denouement. Above all, however, it quite openly creates a thematic imbalance which pervades the unfolding of the motifs: the plot is no longer just about taking Armbruster Snr's ashes home or about the related problems his son has to confront; it is also, and equally, about the double union of the dead and living couples. From then on, unknown to them, and perhaps against their will, Pamela and Armbruster live flagrantly in sin - at least narrativistically. This fact is in no way supported by the factual detail of the story or by a motif but by the way in which an event is represented - in other words, by a theme. The plot thickens! How is the narrative going to cope with this potential union?

The sequence's remarkable economy almost reduces to the point of meanness. In the narrative, everything is reinvested: the bouquets, the name of the flowers, the position of the corpses. At the end Pamela is alone, and, after the theft of the corpses, Armbruster becomes accordingly suspicious; this episode is made possible by her earlier action - opening the windows. Mattarazzo's precision justifies his arrival at just the right place and time to rescue Pamela from the sailor's unwelcome advances.

Because their union is only a retrospective one, it would be illegitimate to claim that the distinction between motifs and themes rests on mere semantics - on a play on words. Temporary as it might be, the contrast is always presented as definitive. In his wisdom, the storyteller surreptitiously introduces, under the guise of gratuitous and almost ornamental developments, elements which will later be fed into the narrative. It's not just a fascinating trick; it's crucial to the film. Without such a game, it might not have been possible to comply with narrative's double requirement: cohesion and surprise. The link between the amorous and the macabre is a stimulating and morally meaningful one. It cannot, however, be justified without either bad taste or heavy psychological theories. Therefore, the solution lies in harmonising the overall complex of meanings by filming the funeral as if it were a wedding. This is just what Wilder does, in a tremendously daring, yet reserved, way - simply by manipulating the mise en scÉne.

If the implications of the story mainly reside in the transformation of themes into motifs, then it's a useless exercise to try to allocate fixed narrative units to given codes. We are, on the contrary, faced with a quite different task: that of following the hidden movement by which the story takes form. Two processes are fundamental to this transformation. First, by directing our attention towards the material it transforms into themes, the construction as a whole makes that material available for later narrative use: this is true not only, for example, of the name "Tromboncini" but also of the bouquets being shared out. Second, the thematic design is intriguing precisely because it is not simply symbolic (not just a repetition of the symbols offered by a given iconography). Its imbalance and open texture - so obvious in the mysterious and luminous conclusion to the sequence - form an indispensable part of its narrative transmutability.

Originally published in Positif, n.329/330 (1988), pp.111-116.

Translated by Anne-Marie Medcalf & Alec McHoul.


1. Translators' note: Masson uses 'motif' (and its variants, 'motivation', etc.) to refer to narrative events. By contrast, 'theme' ('thematisation', etc.) refers less to events and more to the feelings and ideas they convey under a specific form of representation.

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