Light from above. A study of the role of the mise-en-scène in the creation of sublimity in cinematic woman portrayals

University essay from Lunds universitet/Avdelningen för konsthistoria och visuella studier

Abstract: This Master’s Thesis explores mise-en-scène as a tool for the creation of sublime experience within the context of cinematic portrayals of female characters. Focus is set on introducing the concepts of the sublime and mise-en-scène and on illustrating, using films, how the mentioned concepts interplay in the creation of female portrayals. The theoretical aspects of the sublime are mostly adopted from I. Kant and J. F. Lyotard. Sublime woman portrayals are illustrated using three examples: Summer with Monika (Ingmar Bergman, 1953), Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957), and Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón). The empirical analysis comprises four films: Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932), Scarlett Empress (Josef von Sternberg, 1934), Holy Motors (Leos Carax 2012) and The House (Sharunas Bartas, 1997). I have been able to identify an intention of the artists to use the mise-en-scène for creating a visual, potential energy, originating from the contrast between the feminine beauty and lightness of the characters and something dark and implicitly masculine of the same, which may serve as a bridge to sublime experiences of the spectator. In surrealistic atmosphere woman portrayals get a phantasmagorical light, which creates the feeling of affect, grandest, even monstrosity. Interestingly, I proved that the scary/ugly, the contrary to beautiful mise-en-scène, can shed sublime light on a woman portrayals. Besides cinematographic applications, our findings could, through similar techniques, be applied also within the field of advertisement.

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