If you type in the word ‘Surrealism’ in Google, the page would throw out the following definition:
“..a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images..”
Surrealism in cinema is unlike this unidimensional perspective that is often expressed through other art forms. You can, in a manner of speaking, comfortably identify the surreal through the color-coded rules that confine it to our visual spectrum. Film, on the other hand, enjoys the liberty to evoke the same effect through a dynamic kaleidoscope which changes and transforms itself through music, characterization and dramatic resonance in every scene. Of course, it is something that is sentiently explored and nurtured by only a select few directors.
Damien Chazelle’s deep love for music is unequivocally apparent through his previous film Whiplash which was about a music student who has made it his life to be a Jazz Drummer but is entangled in a power-struggle with his mentor who pushes him to the very edge of insanity. Whiplash was also about the obsession towards a dream and the frenzied focus to attain it. Interestingly, the story is also the story of Damien himself who once wanted to be a Jazz musician and had a mentor who was as abrasive as the Terence Fletcher in Whiplash. Although later he realized that film-making was always his first love and pursued his career in that. And as such, the recurrent themes of Music and the Pursuit of one’s Dream are some of his favourite ingredients in film-making.
If Whiplash was an intense story about a Jazz musician, La La Land is a living, breathing homage to Jazz itself. Instead of fixating on the very creation of Jazz, Chazelle takes it to another dimension pervading the very lives of the characters and the world they inhabit in. This very theme is expressed through an opening scene where a highway traffic jam turns into a resplendent dance routine played out through a 5-minute long continuous shot where the camera keeps following the dancers as they serenade through the precisely choreographed scene. Somewhere in this traffic jam, we see Mia and Sebastian for the first time as they cross each other in an unpleasant exchange of a scowl and a finger. From this point onwards, our characters depart to play out their own lives unaware that fate would bring them back in a most unexpected setting. Mia, played by Emma Stone, is a struggling actor who also works as a waitress in a Hollywood Coffee shop to make ends meet. Despite having several great attempts, her talent remains largely unnoticed by the self-absorbed people dominating the Film Industry with little regard for art. Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, on the other hand is a Jazz Pianist who wants to make it his life’s purpose to bring back Jazz music to the mainstream. As gifted as he may be, he is unable to find work where his music would be appreciated. Instead he has to settle for a mediocre restaurant where people just want some music to fill in their shallow conversations. Mia and Sebastian are both the victims of a self-deprecating life where dreams are not allowed to take wing. Despite being bogged down by circumstances, both of them achieve success in their own way but leave us, as an audience, with a seminal question – “Do we really achieve our dream in our way to success or does the dream change itself to fit into our perception of success ?”
Shot entirely on Cinemascope, the widescreen representation is immersive and the colour palettes pop out of the two-dimensional screen giving you a three-dimensional visage. Chazelle’s orchestration of lights and sound is breathtaking. Among several captivating scenes, there is one where there’s a party going on where everything is frozen for a second only to be broken by a sudden splash in the pool. The camera dips under the surface as if to follow the diver, turning its water-splattered screen into a bokeh which now rotates 360 degrees as everyone breaks into a jig. Talk about painting pictures with scenes ! Such flowing unconventional angles, combined with the ever present Jazz score makes for a unique experience.
Gosling and Stone are characters who have grown into their own insecurities. Stone has struggled for years and feels that she is probably not good enough and is just chasing a “pipe-dream”, an infatuation. Her natural performance is best seen in the audition scenes where she switches between various stage characters, and then switches to the character of her own self who is also pretending to be satisfied with the selection process but her eyes betray her frustration in the same moment. Gosling is much more moody and nonchalant in his attitude towards life. He sees electronic media corrupting his beloved music and understands that his future as a Jazz pianist would never be realized. His perfect balance between pathos and intensity is commendable as is precisely portrayed through his rant about life – “This is the dream. Its conflict and its compromise. Its very, very exciting !”
Best described through these lines of one of Mia‘s enchanting audition scenes:
“Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish, as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make…”
La La Land is about the world which listens to the rhythm of life and thrives in it but fails to understand it, a tragedy of the times that we live in…
gobblpoint: Chazelle is a director to look out for. Each of his stories are powerful in their projection of an idea and in the captivating way they are told. One of few Surrealist film-makers out there!
Possible Oscar Mentions:
Best Cinematography: Through its spectacular use of color and motion throughout the narrative, it would hardly be a surprise if La La Land makes it to the top of this category.
Best Picture: Although many of the contenders (such as Scorcese’s Silence) are yet to hit the box-office, La La Land is already emerging as the critic’s favourite and pining for the top prize. However, Best Picture Musicals are a rare genre and there are just a handful which have won so far, the last of which was Chicago in 2002 (and Oliver ! in 1968 before that).
Also read: Genre-Bias in Best Picture Oscar
Disclaimer: The images used in this blog are the sole property of the makers of this film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.