PAUSE IT: What do you see? A stylized image. A triptych composition. Actor Adrienne Shelly (foreground) averts her gaze from an ongoing amorous display in director Hal Hartley’s deadpan comedy, The Unbelievable Truth (1989). The scene is touching, if not comic, in all that it says about human longing and affection. The lustful and cringeworthy depiction arrests our attention, and we the viewer, unlike Shelly, cannot look away. Yet, why is the image so striking? For answers we can examine the way in which Hartley and cinematographer Michael Spiller stage the action before the camera. The staging of actors within a frame is called blocking. Study the way in which Hartley and Spiller craft the composition around the trifurcated vertical lines of the windowpane. We see the couple on the far left, divided from the figure of a man in the interior, divided from Shelly. The end result is that of a more engrossing image, a well-balanced frame that manages to highlight the actions of four separate characters while at the same time revealing those invisible interpersonal relationships that often go unnoticed, but nevertheless connect us all.

Director: Hal Hartley
Cast: Adrienne Shelly, Robert John Burke, Chris Cooke
Cinematography by: Michael Spiller
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