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Enthralling visual style


WITH "RED Dragon", the Lecter movies now form a triptych. (If we don't count Michael Mann's "Manhunter", that is.) Some critics feel Brian Cox's Lecter in Mann's first adaptation of "Red Dragon" is the definitive Lecter, not Hopkins). "The Silence of the Lambs" is clearly the most superior, while "Red Dragon" is the most mediocre. So where does that leave Ridley Scott's "Hannibal"?

Mostly considered a failure, it has, like the Thomas Harris book, been dismissed by critics as silly and preposterous. Having recently re-seen it on DVD, I'd like to say something on behalf of the film's visual style. Ridley Scott's "Hannibal", I think, has set a new standard for what a film must look like. Forget for a moment all your quarrels (which must be plenty) with the movie — just look at it. Look. It is ravishment. In fact, to come up with another film that looked this interesting and new (look as opposed to style — there have been more stylish films) one has to go all the way back to "Blade Runner".

Ridley Scott again! "Blade Runner" defined and influenced the style of not just future thrillers but most good-looking films after it ("Seven" was the last film to copy that look and feel.)

0Every frame in this "mournfully beautiful" film feels like a lesson in composition and light. Filmmakers have already begun to copy what Scott and his cinematographer John Mathieson have accomplished here. ``I have never seen so many variations on midnight blue'', said novelist Frederick Batheleme, referring to the film's lighting.

`Hannibal' is all about the adoration of light, the elegance of shattered sound, the shadowed beauty of the world we live in but never really see.'' It is a shroud that Scott was making. And he cloaks the film with it, allowing us to see whatever we see only through it. The shots are not pretty or handsome. They go beyond it... to what I cannot quite say. But he makes every frame count without repeating himself: one shot is not like the other. It is as though he was making a world for Lecter or having us see the world through Lecter's eyes. We all know what impeccable aesthetic taste the good doctor has, and it is as though Scott would not offend him by placing him in a film that would be less than Lecter's idea of the physical world: blue-black-grey burnished with gold.

The film opens deceptively. It is Scott having some fun. So confident is he that he has something new to show us visually that Scott begins the film with — of all things — an indoor scene. It is a room in Verger's house with three people talking.

It is, of course, a very tasteful room, tastefully shot. Nothing about it prepares you for what is to unfold in terms of the enthralling visual style of the film, its `look'. Then on a black screen: in blood-red copperplate writing, flourishes and all, the title of the film: "Hannibal". Ah, you think: now come the dazzling visuals. But this only segues into (what looks like) an even triter scene: opening credits on a grainy, fuzzy black and white police video footage. Fuzzy images of cars, people, streets, pigeons. But watch carefully. There are flashes of colour in red. And then, in an almost three second throwaway shot there appears out of these pigeons, not unlike the imprint on a shroud, the smiling face of Hannibal Lecter. The pigeons fly away and the face is gone.

From here on, Scott has us in thrall: cuts to a close-up of the pale sleeping (almost death-like) face of Julianne Moore, shrouded in icy mist.

It looks like a coffin till you realise, from another angle, she is only napping in a SWAT van with a large block of ice steaming next to her (the book explains the mystery: it is for air-conditioning).

The Florence scenes: where does one begin? Shot in burnished gold and dripping grey. The perennial blue background from "Silence of the Lambs" turns ash here. An aerial shot of the cigarette smoking, long coated, Ray-banned Inspector Pazzi in an empty square. Blue-black- grey streets that are wet or misty. Pale, white statues and buildings brooding over shining, wet cobbled streets.

Well ... I give up trying to describe it. (After all, it took critics years to finally define the bleak, drizzly rain-and-neon-drenched look of "Blade Runner"). You see it again and you'll `see'.

PRADEEP SEBASTIAN

(pradeepsebastian @hotmail.com)

Visuals by Netra Shyam

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