The discreet charm of close-ups in ‘Alaigal Oivathillai’

For philosopher Gilles Deleuze, « the affection-image is the close-up shot and the close-up shot is the face ». Indeed, close-up is not only a film technique to focus on an element, it actually creates another dimension, an isolated visual entity, which seems independent from spatio-temporal reality. Insular. Unterritorialized.
Close-ups express the quintessence of an emotion, and, they are, in fact, the quintessence of cinema itself. Thus, Godard said about the pioneer filmmaker D.W.Griffith that « he was taken by the beauty of his actress to such an extent that he created the close-up to better stare at the details ». After all, this exploration of human faces seems to draw the distinction between the art of cinema and the art of theatre, where actors are above all bodies and voices.

I love Bharathiraja’s filmography for many reasons and one of them is the abundant use of close-ups, be it in song sequences or in emotionally intense scenes. ‘Alaigal Oivathillai’ is a beautiful juvenile romance and a visual beauty where the omnipresent close-ups define Vichu and Mary’s emotions, intensify the hardships of their love story. In one scene, close-ups in cut-edited shot/reverse-shot on Vichu and Mary reflect their nascent feelings. A choreography of faces matching Ilaiyaraaja bewitching music. In another scene, a zoom-in, slowly closing up on the characters faces, enhances their emotions on screen. In fact, with these close-ups on characters, the whole cinema screen is invaded by their faces, that is to say by their emotions, in all their details. Besides, just as D.W Griffith was fascinated by the beauty of his actress, Bharathiraja’s abundant use of close-ups, reflects his quest for his characters emotions, his fascination for his actors faces, especially when they are in the prime of their lives…Karthik and Radha were respectively 20 and 15 when the film was shot. Thus, the delicate beauty of ‘Alaigal Oivathillai’ is rooted the screen presence and juvenile beauty of these actors, frozen in time, through Bharathiraja’s eye.

Shakila Zamboulingame