Before the lips touch

The moment just before a kiss between two film characters is a climax of strong sensual elicitation and erotic condensation. At a narrative level, the kiss has both a transformative role (rebirth, reawakening, betrayal) and a resolutive role (completion, conquest, farewell). Let us concentrate on the perceptual/cognitive/emotional functions of the filmic kiss as an (em)pathetic elicitor of the spectator experience. Adopting a phenomenological approach, I am trying to focus on the moments that precede and prepare the encounter of the lips, and to argue that kissing scenes are used as a strategy of desire loading. Such a strategy is constructed upon a complex and composite progressive engagement that is both physiological and psychological: reduction of physical distance, organization of gaze trajectories, delay, and hesitation. In kissing scenes, individual body parts (eyes, lips, tongue, nose, head, neck, hands) act as corporeal characters in an autonomous micro-narrative structure based on the principle of causality: the kissers’ lips run after each other, slip, escape, meet, fall across each other, and so on). The bridge between the internal and external sides of the body is provided by voice modulation, breathing intensification and synaesthetic stimulation. The bodily action is supported by corporeal modalities of audiovisual representation: revolving camera movements, extreme close-ups, intensified editing, swelling background music, etc. Such a multilevel strategy involves the viewer’s embodied perception and his/her empathetic system, transforming him/her into the kissing/kissed subject. The moments just before the kiss function as a desire arousal,acting just as erotic elicitation acts at the neurobiological level, i.e. unleashing hormones. Nonetheless, drawing on both the spectator’s past experience of love and sex, and on his/her superior cognitive activity, the sensory-motor and sensate layers of the experience interact with each other.


The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008)

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