The Language of Film: Metz and Eisenstein Examined

Here’s a brief excerpt from my theory response paper in which I analyzed Agnes Varda’s Le Bonheur in relation to Metz’s “Some Points in the Semiotics of Cinema” and Eisenstein’s “The Dramaturgy of Film Form.” This is paragraph 7 (basically right in the middle of the paper). Paragraph 7 serves as the beginning of a close analysis of two related scenes within Le Bonheur, and the ways in which these scenes certainly reflect aspects of Eisenstein’s dialectical montage but also diverge quite drastically and, in effect, become a bit more complex. Just a note, this paragraph references the “For God and Country” segment of Eisenstein’s October which I examined in greater detail in paragraph 6 alongside the hand montage sequences in Le Bonheur (also discussed in greater detail prior to this paragraph).


Varda uses a very similar approach in crafting the hand sequences, albeit in a slightly more complicated fashion which tests the limits of Eisenstein’s theory and leads us closer toward Metz’s general understanding of cinematic language. Just as Eisenstein utilizes close ups of religious icons one after the other to craft meaning, Varda, too, presents close ups of the disembodied hands completing different tasks one after the other in quick succession. The effect, however, is arguably more complex than that of the scene in October for two reasons. The first of which is quite simply that Varda presents us with a sequence that does not, in and of itself, signify anything other than a temporally compressed series of completed chores. Where the October sequence is presenting iconography imbued with meaning and thus allows for intellectual comparisons to be drawn between conflicting images, Varda’s hand sequences simply present hands and household tasks. That said, the collision of the shots is indeed representative of dialectical montage in that through this collision and temporal collapse one comes to recognize not only the sheer volume of work these women complete but, and more importantly, the fact that these are largely automated and thankless tasks. Essentially, the disembodied hands function to ensure that these tasks are completed, but the owner of the hands receives no recognition. The tasks, in effect, are always already assumed to have been completed and the very fact that they necessitate human labor (specifically women’s labor in this film) is ignored. Thus, while Eisenstein’s example crafts meaning through the collision of images which themselves are heavily coded in meaning, Varda’s approach is much more subtle and demands a more active approach by the spectator to cognitively decode both present and absent images.

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