‘The Whale’: Darren Aronofsky shows the power of theatricality in the cinema

Of all the arguments that can be brandished like a more or less sharp and hurtful dagger to assess a feature film negatively, one of the most irritating and, in my opinion, incomprehensible, is the one that uses the term “theatrical” as something pejorative . A true nonsense that, in addition to simplifying forms and narratives to the bare minimum, insults an essential medium for understanding the seventh art.

There are many precedents that dismantle the negative aspect of theatricality in the cinema . From comedy classics like ‘Arsenic for Compassion’ to indisputable gems like ‘Twelve Angry Men’, going through modern essentials like ‘My Dinner with Andre’ or the recent Oscar winner for best adapted screenplay ‘The Father’, the examples that illustrate it seem endless.

With the magnificent ‘The Whale’ , the always fascinating Darren Aronofsky abandons the bombast of ‘Noe’ and the hypnotic excesses of the third act of ‘Mother!’ to gather a handful of characters inside a house; giving shape to one of the most intense and heartbreaking experiences that have recently circulated on the big screen without trying to hide its origins at any time.

Dialogues and blue eyes

After his enthusiastic reception at the Venice Film Festival, it is clear that talking about ‘The Whale’ is talking about a simply and simply extraordinary Brendan Fraser . Beneath an immense layer of prosthetics, the actor seems to bare his own soul and transmit through his sincere gaze the sorrow, regret, fear, pain and warm hope of an already round Charlie on paper. .

There is no doubt that Fraser’s work that has been talked about over and over again is a clear catalyst for emotion as well as a strong pillar that supports the feature film, but it is not, by any means, the only one; and leaving aside the rest of the equally brilliant cast —special mention for Hong Chau—, the duo made up of Aronofsky and his head cinematographer, Matthew Libatique , is the one that ends up raising the ensemble to unexpected levels.

Under a predominant simplicity —but not simplicity—, derived from its nature of almost minimalist bottled drama, ‘The Whale’ hides a more sophisticated and intricate formal treatment than it might seem at first glance; which begins with a staging as precise as it is austere in which each shot and each camera movement are at the service of the narrative and the protagonists.

Shot with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 that makes Fraser’s enormous presence even more imposing, imprisoning him in the frames —and, therefore, in the house from which he cannot leave— and turning each close-up into A torrent of sensations channeled by his gaze, the film displays an enviable mastery of space and once again demonstrates what an experienced DOP can achieve with a digital camera in terms of color and texture.

Beyond its cinematography and fantastic characterization work, which combines tangible hairpieces and CGI, The Whale‘s’ best special effect is none other than its use of words and dialogue . As in any good film based on verbal interactions, the bombardment of incisive lines is the star of the show, and its impact and effectiveness as the motor of the action is indisputable.

Enriching everything exposed so far, the adaptation of the text by Samuel D. Hunter, signed by Aronofsky himself, nourishes the story with a good dose of intrigue that serves as a magnet while filtering a clear, concise and unnecessarily underlined speech between its scenes. ; all this while he imbues the footage with a devastating tone halfway between the tragic and the charmingly optimistic.

‘The Whale’ only needs one house, six performers and the blue eyes of Brendan Fraser to postulate itself as the first great title that will arrive in our cinemas next 2023 and to demonstrate once again that theatricality in the cinema can be translated into really experiences. wonderful.