Voici a film which should be viewed properly. Far from any blockbuster of the summer, or even the typical film/independent… Gustav Deutsch offers us a work actually singular, between dance and contemporary art, tribute, film, painting, photography, theatre.

This is Shirley : A journey In the Painting of Edward Hopper.

Every scene of the film thus presents itself in the form of a living painting, who tells us, in 13 scenes/paintings ofEdward Hopper, the life of a certain Shirley.

Attention ! Point of Chop Suey or Night Owls. These 13 tables are part of the “unknown”. However, they have, of course, the paw inimitable of their author.

Each scene takes place in a painting of Hopper’s transcribed life-size, in a setting of a precision extraordinary. Gustav Deutsch transformed the work of the painter through a choreography careful which place each character on the screen, so as to recompose continuously a variation of the original array.

Everyone feels Edward Hopper in a different way. What I like about him for example, it is his way of capturing moments of life, a time, in the universe of one or more persons ; sometimes holiday-makers, often urban, environment and characters of the Hopper settle into the real world. His paintings and their unique trait to create a dimension that is both parallel and concrete, between nostalgia and timelessness, which can stir emotions, as to disturb by their proximity.

Hopper is one of those painters essentials which have marked the collective unconscious, and of which one sees the influence in many artists.

To stay concise and cinephile, I will use two examples of how very differently the influence of Hopper :

Terrence Malick ; his house in the middle of the field of the Harvest of the Sky evokes House By The Rail Road of Hopper. In general, we find in the director, this fascination for some of the lights in twilight or other lights, which recall the particular lighting of the paintings ofHopper.

Gregory Crewdson. The photographer producing original creations, combining his own sensibility to the imagery created by Hopper. His photos captured the moment with precision, this look lost and this loneliness that the characters of the painter, by installing them in a dark atmosphere, sometimes to the limit of the glaucous. His way of composing his photographs is also highly cinematic. (You can find his work on the cover of season 3 of Six Feet Under)

Gustav Deutsch, him, uses directly the original material. It repeats the contours of the works of Edward Hopper, and made changes to several characters, including one in particular. The director is a party to any table, Night at the office, and then, by other 12, created a story around a female character, which the painter and his wife Josephine (by the way, the recurring pattern of his paintings) had appointed Shirley… Each table in the film is therefore a snapshot, a part of it.

The out-of-field typical of the paintings of Edward Hopper, is here transcribed in several different ways. By the sound, of course ; it is made up of a amount of details impressive, ranging from radio recordings of the era, the voice actors out of frame, passing through the various events directly impacting the atmosphere of the scenes – lightning/thunder, movie screen, etc, This sound environment directly impacts the dynamics of the scenes, the light, the atmosphere, even tables.

This score sound full and complex, is in addition to the reflections of Shirley, in voice-off.

Those involved in the hypnotic character caused by the film. Constant and monotonous but sensitive, voice-over defines the personality of Shirley. Alone, accompanied, pensive, melancholic… Lost in the middle of existential questions, reflections on the state of the world or, more simply, on his marriage, which was struck by the sadness of a life which constantly seeks a purpose, a destination.

Gustav Deutsch and his co-writer Thomas Schlesinger have managed to shape 30 years of experience in adorning the personal story of Shirley of a multitude of concrete details.

His various jobs, his love life… The two authors inject to Shirley the one hand tangible for themselves. Their tastes, their fantasies, their cultural baggage ; it can be observed through the many references slipped here and there, the poet Emily Dickinson, Plato, passing speaks to filmmaker Elia Kazan… The authors managed the tour de force of LIVE Shirley by these anecdotes, and reflections. Precise and detailed, but always rooted in reality, they contain a mind on the state of the world, cultural and social. This deep philosophical the setting makes her a character which we may sometimes doubt the non-existence.

The producer has not chosen the works of Hopper at random. Each of them sees, of course, show a female character, but in addition, the chronology induced by the creation date of the tables (1931, 1932, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1957 … 1963) it also marks a progression of the psyche of Shirley. Of urban environments and night-time, we gradually move to environments that are more bright, more seaside and country, as the life of Shirley and her perception of the world is changing. There was little that his solitude melancholy that remains.

Gustav Deutsch succeeds in creating a true narrative psychological through them. The works tell a story within a story, nested dolls, stacking with both the same time and space and a temporality different.

Another important aspect is the sensitivity singular that emanates from the film.

It is intimately linked to the personality of the filmmaker, but also that of the performer of Shirley ; Stephanie Cumming, actress and dancer, communicates a lot of things, as much by its look as by its physical expressions.

It is she who allows the viewer to penetrate in the universe, a priori, cold, the reconstruction precision. All the elements pre-quoted would be nothing, if it wasn’t for this binding.

”a work of brilliant, intelligent and sensitive, at the crossroads of cinema and painting, contemporary art and theatre. ”

Cinematically, it reminds us : it is a series of 13 fixed shots, with almost no other dialogue, that of Shirley in a voice-off… Despite everything, Gustav deutsch manages to boost his film.

Each scene/picture is the place of interaction. Either with the table or with the viewer, either in terms of sensitivity.

Gustav Deutsch is having fun as well, to create bridges between the different tables. He plays with the works of the painter, with his own fetish.

He takes a perverse pleasure in distorting the work, to create a special sense, before we release it as Hopper painted it, with an accuracy which was absolutely amazing.

Some plans succeed, as well as many mark the imaginary than the original array. (to put it in perspective, of course. These plans would not exist without the paintings of Hopper)

Deutsch even goes so far as to call a mise en abîme, indicating the decline that it has on the work of Hopper , as well as on his own work.

It is at this level that it can be interesting to know the works in question, before discovering the film (this was not my case).

An example that highlights all of these elements : the table Room in New York, 1932, or Shirley thinks of his work and torque. His questions are many and justified by the economic and social context (off-screen sound). Yet, something happens after the characters have taken THE POSE… instead of taking a decision but carefully thought out, Shirley decides to go against his thoughts, as triggered by a survival instinct… Survival, which would pass by the abandonment to the feelings. At this precise moment, Gustav Deutsch dare décadrage and refocuses the action on an event is surprising, and highly emotional.

The disadvantage inherent in the film, is that it could not exist without the work of Hopper.

What makes this work, in any way opportunistic. A minor flaw, compared to the ambition and audacity of the project, and the delicacy and respect with which one is treated as the work of Edward Hopper.

Also, The pace, the distance imposed by the framing, narration by voice-off, parent the movie from around elitist and cold which can be quite far away from the heat and the closeness that emanate from the paintings of Hopper.

Alone or accompanied, pensive, melancholic, sensual, or miserable… Shirley is a character remarkably well-shaped, built with finesse in this reality that is at once parallel and concrete as are the paintings of Hopper. It is, in the image of works of the painter, is defined by the out-of-field. The concrete – the History, the evolving world around it, and the intangible one – the personality and sensitivity of the authors of the film.

Gustav Deutsch has been successful, through a meticulous work on all aspects of film and with the help of his sensitivity and his actress Stephanie Cumming, to express something inexpressible… to cause exactly the kind of feeling that can be felt at the vision of a work of the painter… To give an interpretation of both subjective and définissante, the paintings of Edward Hopper.


+ the interview with the director Gustav Deutsch

+ See also the paintings of Edward Hopper has served as a model for the director

+ the official page of photographer Gregory Crewdson

Original title : Shirley: Visions of Reality

Realisation : Gustav Deutsch

Scenario : Gustav Deutsch, Thomas Schlesinger

Main actors : Stephanie Cumming, Christoph Bach, Florentin Groll

Country of origin : Austria

Released : September 17, 2014

Duration : 1h33min

Distributor : KMBO

Synopsis : A tribute to the painting of Edward Hopper and the american everyday life from the 1930s to the 1960s, with the staging of thirteen of his paintings taking life and restoring the context of the social, political and cultural events of the time through the eyes of the female character, Shirley.Character directly inspired by Josephine, his wife, a single model and cold. The vision of ordinary reality, without compromise.

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