Three Cinema Faces
Sketches of beauty in film
Harriet Anderssen in Smiles of a Summer Night
Petra, the beautiful house servant, answers the door as the lawyer Egerman and his wife return from the play.
She smiles radiantly in asking them, surprised, if the play has already ended, and at the end of the phrase, her expression subtly transforms from the smile to something indescribably lovely. The doting look of the servant girl, waiting on instructions from her master, with the innocence of the young virgin, and the shame of the unexpected shock of finding them there at that hour, as she had a moment earlier been inside toying with the feeble efforts at courtship of the lawyer's son.
Interrupted in their little tryst, she converts instantly from the alluring erotic tart to the bashful, pristine girl unsullied by any of that.
What on this earth could be more beautiful than the passing of this expression over that beatific visage?
In another scene, the socially-climbing Petra again works at the seduction of the pathetic son, who is enthralled by her beauty, just as the rest of us. She walks into the room where he is having breakfast alone, sets a vase of flowers down on the table, playfully blows in his ear and walks provocatively around the table. She turns her back and undoes her top, turns back to him with her breast exposed and a heavenly smile on her lips, takes his hand to place it on her breast. In that instant she changes her expression to the same innocent, half-surprised look from the earlier scene.
Magical, pure/impure moments of aesthetic perfection.
Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas
She is talking to an analyst about her relationship with the Nicholas Cage character.
“No, I don’t think I should see him again…but I look for him. I went…out last night, I was looking for him.”
The exquisite complexity of emotional range she shows in these few seconds:
from “No” (with the nervous exhalation of breath at the end of this utterance, her face is that of a little girl who has been caught pilfering cookies and sheepishly admits to it, then a rebellious smile and the mischievous laugh confirming her enjoyment of this transgressive desire);
to “I don’t think I should see him again” (her face sets sternly for a moment in recognition of the danger, and then eyebrows arch to show innocent repentance, seeking the questioner’s acknowledgement of her confession of her sin);
and then, she looks down momentarily, and suddenly “but I look for him” (a wisp of a laugh at “but”, and a voluptuous smile when the phrase is completed, her eyes sparkling with unadulterated bliss at the mere thought of this man she already loves, and again a hint of that rebellion);
and finally “I went…out last night, I was looking for him” (she shakes her head at “went”, as if to clear the intoxication of the thought of him from her mind, and her voice is nearly trembling with excitement as she finishes the phrase, looking down, ashamed to show her abandon to this person she knows cannot approve of her desire).
A lengthy novel could be written about just what her face conveys in this scene and never approach its depth.
Liv Ullman in Shame
As she and Max von Sydow drive to the ferry, he speaks to her as she’s about to get out of the car to open the gate.
They have just nearly had an argument. He tells her that when he saw her, just a minute before, buying fish from a local fisherman at the creek, he felt great love for her, as she was so beautiful at that moment.
Her placid face instantly warms. She breaks into a shy smile, her delicately pale, deeply freckled complexion lit spectacularly by the sunshine through the car windshield.
She gets out of the car, looks in at him through the passenger window as the sunlight streams across her glowing face, goes to open the gate, gets back into the car, beams at him again and kisses him.
The sheer Nordic contour of her face, the angles, the inward curve of the line of her nose, that alabaster skin with its intimate texture visible by the grace of this miraculous light that Sven Nykvist was able to conjure, alone of all cinematographers.
The camera is behind them in the truck, and it follows her as she exits the vehicle, goes around front to the gate, beams at von Sydow again in the driver side window as he pulls through, then comes around the back to enter again.
Breathtaking archetypal physiognomy of love.