High angle shots

The historical transformation of human relations and their contexts is also conveyed in the context of formal techniques such as high-angle shots. In general, the use of a high camera angle represents the trapping of characters in their environments and is a visual metaphor for the way in which their actions are determined by these contexts. In Lucía, the content of representative high-angle also conveys a sense of the historical differences between such entrapping contexts.

(#17) In "1895" religion is seen to be one of the central institutional structures through which the colonial forms of sexual and political oppression are maintained. Immediately after Rafaela has released repressed sexual needs through relating the story of Fernandina's rape in intimate detail to Lucía 1 and her friends, Solás cuts to the high-angle shot seen here. This shot expresses the way in which the women are trapped in patterns of sexual repression by religion. Thus trapped, the women's sexual needs are frustrated, and it is out of such frustration that Lucía 1's infatuation with Rafael develops.

(#18) Another high-angle shot in the "1895" sequence shows Lucía 1 pulled into a decaying colonial building by Rafael, although she knows he is married and has reason to suspect his honesty. Thus, the visual presentation functions as a metaphor for the way in which the vestiges of the colonial structure continue to entrap individuals and to determine their lives.

(#19) In "1932" war are shown Lucía 2 in her apartment after she has been left alone by the death of Aldo. The fragmentation and alienation of bourgeois existence is expressed in her presentation as a lonely individual, trapped in her loneliness through her isolation in her own home.

(#20) "196_" presents us with the dialectical response to bourgeois isolation. Lucía 3 has been shut up in her home by Tomás, in accordance with traditional patterns of male/female relations. Now, however, the revolution has created a larger context in which such attitudes are inappropriate. Thus, we see Lucía struggling against her confinement within bourgeois institutions, by attempting to break out of her home to join with her fellow workers.

Mirror shots

Mirror shots generally represent the alienation which results from contexts in which the emphasis on appearance, and its concomitant false social values, estranges people (particularly women) from their real selves and causes them to take on the alien self of appearance in order to satisfy the social requirement of physical attractiveness. This technique serves as a metaphor for the primacy accorded appearance as opposed to reality in a capitalist system. In Lucía mirror shots also convey a sense of historical transformation, by expressing changes in the relative importance of appearance.

(#21) This shot shows Lucía 1 who has just returned home after seeing Rafael for the second time. It foregrounds the emphasis placed on women's appearance in colonial society. As Lucía enters the room, the power of her "alien self" is expressed in the way the mirror's frame dominates the image.

(#22) Here, the power of Lucía's "alien self" is further expressed, where her mirrored image is the center of focus as she prepares to meet Rafael. Her "real self" has almost ceased to exist and its place has been taken by a social stereotype of physical appearance—her "mirrored self," which deceives her into believing that Raefel is honest despite the fact that she has already received sufficient warnings to the contrary.

(#23) "1932" begins with much the same idea. Here we see Lucía's mother as Lucía 2 sees her. The mother is reflected in a mirror as she attempts to convince herself of her continuing physical attractiveness, in the face of her husband's infidelity. The neocolonial deformities of Cuban culture are expressed in her imitation of Jean Harlow. The distortion of the image at the edges of the mirror indicate an incipient criticism of this way of thinking in a world in the process of transformation.

(#24) This image further expresses the weight of historical tradition. After seeing her mother serve as a model of colonized femininity, Lucía 2 enters the room and is forced by her mother to sit in front of the mirror in order to be molded into the same alienated patterns. Here, the confines of the mirror (and, metaphorically, a society that judges women in terms of their physical appearance) imprison and dominate Lucía, and she reacts to this assault on her desires for self-determination with anger, withdrawal and resentment.

(#25) Lucía reaction to the previous situation is graphically expressed in this shot. Here she and Flora write strike slogans on the mirror of the women's room in the factory. Thus the very symbol of women's oppression becomes a medium to convey the dialectical response of worker organization in a strike that will eventually topple the Machado regime.

(#26) "196_" presents us with the vestigial remnants of this emphasis on appearance. Here, Lucía 3 uses a mirror to make herself up.

(#27) But the mirror (which is, after all, simply a tool for self-reflection and self-perception) quickly tells her how alienated and inappropriate such behavior in revolutionary Cuba.

(#28) Tomás, though, has not yet acquired a consciousness of the oppressiveness of appearance-oriented focus in human relations. As a man, he has suffered in a less immediate way from this phenomenon. And, as is evident in his primping, he is unable to use this tool for self-clarification. This inability to really see himself is graphically expressed in the way his image is obstructed by the foreground objects.

Historical realism and documentary style

An aesthetic of "historical realism" is achieved in contemporary cinema through imitating the techniques characteristic of television's "on-the-spot" coverage of news events. Cuban films (for example, First Charge of the Machete) often play upon an obvious anachronism inherent in the use of these techniques; the visual style incorporates "news" cinematography in a highly self-conscious fashion in order to emphasize the fact of historical mediation. While Lucía is more restrained in its use of these techniques than First Charge, the visual effects produced by the hand-held cameras employed throughout the film are only the most obvious manifestations of the work's documentary style. Two other techniques characteristic of contemporary documentary style also serve to convey a sense of historical realism: foreground interventions and anonymous close-ups.

Foreground interventions

Foreground interventions come between the actors or narrative action and the camera itself. By placing or moving people or objects in the path of what appears to be the camera's focus, the film replicates the style of images seen in documentary films, where the main action is uncontrolled and unrehearsed and thus may be "interrupted" at any moment. The use of this technique heightens a sense of realism and draws viewers into the film in a convincing and powerful way that is unavailable to films using more "classical" techniques.

(#29) In "1895" people and objects constantly pass between the actresses and the camera as the women discuss a returning acquaintance's Parisian hat and her husband. Here, the technique not only provides a sense of realism, but the visual intervention of a soldier and his hat in the foreground serve as a visual reference to the ongoing war. Thus, the perfunctory kiss of the women and the frivolity of their concerns become ironic in the context of the struggle for national liberation.

(#30) In "1932," a horse and cart cut across the path of the oncoming demonstration. This serves to convince the viewers of the "reality" of the demonstration and draws them into the ensuing battle.

(#31) "196_" presents us with perhaps a more familiar use of foreground interventions. Here, the sense of the party's reality is heightened through including part of the back of a dancer's head. This frame enlargement also provides a good example of the use of anonymous close-ups.

Anonymous close ups

Anonymous close-ups are close-ups of individuals who remain unknown and who do not appear at other times in the film. This technique is integral to the documentary style in that it presents anonymous individuals as at times being equally important as the central protagonists. Thus, the technique works against the emotional primacy assigned to individual characters and the visual status accorded "stars" in bourgeois cinema by insisting on the ever-present existence of the masses in history. The technique was probably first developed by Sergei Eisenstein in the context of revolutionary Soviet cinema.

(#32) In "1895," we are presented with the close-up of a young girl who is watching the harassment of Fernandina. Here, the stationary quality of the shot serves to generate sympathy for Fernandina as a symbol for women of her class through emphasizing their feelings of impotence in the face of colonial oppression. The girl's concern contrasts with the voyeurism and titillation of Lucía's circle when hearing the story of Fernandina's rape. Finally, the technique conveys the presence of future generations and the way in which they are formed by that which is taking place before their eyes.

The close-up of another young girl is repeated at the end of the film (#59). There, however, it is active, not stationary, and represents the fact that for girls growing up in revolutionary Cuba, the future will be very different.

(#33) In "1932," Solás cuts to one of the women who works with Lucía 2 while they listen to the harangue of the forewomen. Differences in class and race between the workers and forewomen are clearly expressed in the marked contrast of clothing and hairstyles.

(#34) The party sequence from "196_" provides us with yet another example of the anonymous close-up. However, the arrival of visitors from Eastern Europe has created a very different mood than that seen in #31. Here we see the reaction of Cubans to the introduction of foreign cultures — a reaction clearly linked to the colonial and neocolonial patterns of domination presented in the preceding segments of the film.

Visual structure and segment themes

Within each of the segments, particular techniques are used to develop certain themes appropriate to that historical period. Although "1895" is the most self-consciously "classical," and thus the richest of the segments in visual style, all three segments contain examples of formal structure to convey thematic material.

Critique of phallocentrism

A central focus of Lucía is the criticism of phallocentrism, the patriarchal domination of society. Although each of the segments speaks to this issue, it is at the formal level in "1895" that the most devastating critique of phallocentrism is developed.

(#35) Here, as was true in their first meeting (#7), Rafael's power over Lucía 1 is portrayed through the dominance given him in the frames in which they appear together.

(#36, #37, #38) As can be seen in these frames, Lucía has become the pursuer rather than the pursued — a subject expressing her own desires rather than simply being the object of Rafael's lust (and deceit). Nonetheless, his continued dominance of the relationship is indicated by the way in which his position in the frame determines her position. In #36, she chases after him, but each time she appears to move toward a foreground position of power, he brushes her against pillars (phallic imagery) which force her to move into the background.

The tactics of Rafael's retreat are made clear in #37 and #38. Here, he has moved to a different plane in the frame, expressive of the degree to which she must violate her own "space" in order to link herself with him. Further, the high-angle seen in #37 and the domination of the foreground by Rafael in #38 express both his continued mastery and Lucía's subservience.

(#39) After the consummation of their relationship, the domination of both individuals by the structure of the phallocentric system in which they live is pointedly expressed through their presentation as tiny objects beneath the imposing trees and tower.

(#40, #41, #42, #43) The formal critique is reiterated in these cuts, which follow immediately after #39.

In #40, Rafael combines the phallic imagery of the tree with that of the whip, a visual metaphor expressive of male domination and a symbol of his mastery.

In #41, Lucía accepts such mastery and appears to be worshiping at the same shrine, although she would call love what he would consider to be "power" — a message underscored by her passivity, both as a character and within the frame.

This is followed by the cuts seen in #42 and #43, where the tree between Rafael and Lucía can be sees as a metaphor for the fetishistic worship of the erect phallus within the patriarchal system — thus, both the nexus of their relationship as well as that which separates them from one another, as indicated by their lack of eye-to-eye contact and the contrast in the emotions indicated by their expressions.

(#44, #45) The critique of women's participation in the maintenance of phallocentrism is presented at the end of the segment in a crucial juxtaposition.

Here, immediately after Lucía has stabbed Rafael for the first time (#44), the film cuts to the shot presented in #45.

Lucía's friend, Rafaela, is horrified by this attack on male dominance and throws up her arms as if in anguished prayer to the sugar mill or church steeple which towers over her. The economic structure and ideological bond of the repressive colonial society has been assaulted, and Rafaela's consciousness is capable only of reacting in horror. Women as a group are not yet ready to overthrow male dominance, and Lucía's personal enlightenment leads to her insanity. This "insanity," however, will finally link her to authentic Cuba in the person of Fernandina (see #50, below).

Go to page 3

To topPrint versionJC 50 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.