Friday, November 23, 2012

Confessions of a Once-a-Year Movie-goer

I liked the movie Argo.
I am all for quietly evocative moments and subtle filigree of story-telling.
I wonder if the following is in everybody and their critic's blog post, but I'll write it down nonetheless (spoiler alert applies):

 A scene: Ben Affleck's character meets an operative in Istanbul (a.k.a Constantinople), in Hagia Sophia. The camera zooms onto a Byzantine Christian icon -- of a female saint, or perhaps Virgin Mary. A kerchief swaddles her ascetic, olive-colored face, dominated by her eyes -- impossibly huge, rare almonds with whites showing under the irises. Okay, an icon, I'm thinking. A stylized, traditional representation of a human face that is as common as it is peculiar to the Early Christian and Russian Orthodox iconographies. The camera moves on.
Then, as the movie winds up to its climax, there is a scene: an Iranian housemaid of the Canadian ambassador is questioned by the Revolutionary guards about the identity of the six "house guests" that have been staying at the ambassador's ever since the attack on the American Embassy. She knows who they are. They are the missing Americans. But she does not report this to her interrogator even though she may be putting her own life in danger by keeping silent. The camera zooms on her face. Suddenly we see an uncanny resemblance: the same kerchief, olive complexion, impossibly huge almonds of eyes. With the whites showing under the irises. 
Perhaps the image echoes the icon in order to invoke a sense of saintly sacrifice. Or perhaps -- Byzantine icons did not "stylize." They depicted people as they were. And are. This is the same people, of Mediterranean and Middle East, painted as they were by their artists, and later, painted this way by the Russian iconographers because the latter were taught -- in an eight-hundred-year master-to-pupil tradition --  that this was the one and only way to depict a saint.

Isn't that a quietly evocative moment? 

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