Film Techniques to Explore the Ideas of Betrayal, Love, Trust, and Loss.
Lantana, directed by Ray Lawrence, is an Australian film that follows the lives of a group of people living in Suburban Sydney, as they attempt to navigate their relationships with the ones they love. The film explores intense themes of betrayal, trust, loss and love, and allows the viewer a glimpse into the everyday troubles that occur behind closed doors. Lawrence utilizes film techniques such as mise-en-scene, soundtrack, camera shots, camera angles and lense focusing to expertly convey these themes to the viewer.
Throughout the film Lantana, the concept of betrayal between life partners is explored through both the relationships of John and Valerie, and of Leon and Sonja. In the scene in which Valerie’s phone calls are ignored by John, mise-en-scene is utilized to convey the sense of betrayal in John’s actions. The recurring image of the phone and answering machine, coupled with the photographs of their daughter, and of them as a couple, presents a sad irony in how their relationship has developed. Furthermore, the stark contrast between the harsh lighting of the phone box from which a voice over of Valerie’s pleas can be heard, and the warm lighting of their home highlights the harsh betrayal with which John ignores her. Similarly, the theme of betrayal is also starkly present in the scene in which Leon tells Sonja about the affair, after he has told her about his knowledge of her visits to Valerie. In this scene, a medium shot of Sonja is included to convey the strong sense of betrayal she feels, as the shock is clearly evident from her facial expressions. Cynicism is also utilized by Lawrence to convey the betrayal Leon feels at his wife’s secrecy, through his statement that there was a time where there was no private between you and me. Clearly, the technique of mise-en-scene, shots and sound no doubt conveys Lawrence’s ideas of betrayal throughout Lantana.
Lawrence also explores the necessity of trust in a functioning and loving relationship in his film Lantana through stylistic features such as sound, camera focusing and lighting. In the scene in which Paula collects her children from Jane after Nick’s return from being questioned, Paula makes her trust in Nick evident through the use of dialogue. Paula states that he didn’t do it Jane […] He told me, and it is through this statement that her strong trust for Nick is displayed, showing Jane that his word is enough for her. As one of the only happy couples in the film, Lawrence makes it evident that trust is needed for a relationship to work. Through the budding romance of Claudia and the mystery man, Lawrence is also able to convey the idea of trust to the viewer through techniques such as camera focusing and lighting. Towards the end of the film, Claudia returns to the restaurant, and warm lighting is used to symbolize the new hope for her and the mystery man. The camera lense focuses on these two, blurring their surroundings, and it is clear that Claudia has trusted that he will return to the restaurant, conveying the urgency for trust in a healthy relationship. Undoubtedly, Lawrence is able to convey the theme of trust through techniques such as sound, camera focusing and lighting.The concept of loss is almost overbearing throughout Lantana, and Lawrence utilizes camera cuts, shots and the soundtrack to convey to the viewer the tragedy of the character’s situations. In the scene in which John and Valerie share intimacy, frequent cuts and shots are utilized to convey the clear tension and loss both of them feel. Frequent cuts are used in between their faces and they are never shown in the same shot, which conveys the idea that they are isolated in their grief. An extreme close up of Valerie displays her grief as she utters look at me John,’and it is his aversion of her stare that conveys the idea that they are united by grief and nothing more. The idea of loss is also quite present in the scene in which Leon listens to the tape of Sonja’s sessions with Valerie. A close up of Leon’s face displays the overwhelming sadness he feels as he realizes what he almost loss, and this is accompanied by soft music, which softens further as he reaches this realization. Indeed, the characteristics of camera cuts, shots and the soundtrack are vital to the depiction of loss in Lawrence’s Lantana.
It is clear that love is also a powerful force in the lives of the characters in Lantana, and Lawrence’s expert involvement of techniques such as mise-en-scene and soundtrack beautifully displays the love of John for his daughter, the love between Leon and Sonja, and the love in many other relationships in the film. In the scene in which John visits the site of his daughter’s murder, his love for Eleanor is conveyed through mise-en-scene, the image of fresh flowers being lain among dead ones, which is symbolic of the time he has spent there, and the love and dedication he feels towards her. This is accompanied by evocative flute and guitar music performed by Paul Kelly, highlighting his pain and love for his dead daughter. The soundtrack also plays a key role in depicting the love between Leon and Sonja. At the end of the film, Leon and Sonja slow dance, with Sonja finally returning his gaze, conveying her love and forgiveness. The accompaniment of the song Que Sabes Tu De Amor or What do you know of love?, helps to highlight the love shared between these two, and it’s power of forgiveness. Certainly love plays a large role in the film Lantana, which Lawrence explores through clever use of mise-en-scene and soundtrack.
Lantana is undoubtedly an extremely powerful film that is successful in conveying the struggles of everyday people and their relationships, something that every viewer can relate to. Lawrence’s efforts to convey the ideas of betrayal, trust, loss and love through the use of mise-en-scene, camera techniques and soundtracks and truly commendable, and his film Lantana is certainly a credit to Australian film making.
The Structure of Conflict in “Lantana”
In the film Lantana, Ray Lawrence builds both internal and external conflict between characters using various film techniques; in turn, such conflict acts as a catalyst for many characters in reaching a turning point for change. Major conflict is caused between the relationships (Leon and Sonja, Nik and Paula, as well as Valerie and John) which in turn has repercussions in the lives of those around these paired characters. Leon and Sonja experience disloyalty and dispute that affect Leon’s professional career; Nik and Paula, conversely, have a trust in their relationship which triggers change in surrounding relationships when they are defiant in the face of adversity. Finally, John chooses to turn his back on Valerie with dire consequences, in a decision which finally causes his internalised issues to resolve.
Leon is introduced as a heavily troubled man who insists on ruining his own life: cheating on his wife, overworking, and initiating domestic conflict with his family. However, within a climax of conflict with Leon and his wife, Leon is forced to change his ways. In early scenes, Lawrence frames Leon alone in shots that are representative of the isolation of this character. Furthering this chaos and isolation that Leon is experiencing, Lawrence takes his shots from a handheld camera, introducing instability into the footage. It is established clearly that Leon is dishonest and disloyal to his wife, often causing him to be out of sync with his wife on many issues; Sonja states that she would “Like to go” while Leon complains “I’m tired.” As Leon conducts the investigation into the disappearance of Valerie Somers, he begins to change, as Lawrence uses close-ups to show the transition of emotion. For instance, Lawrence uses an extreme close up of Leon as he listens to his wife confess to Valerie that she would still love him regardless; the shot is designed to show his emotion as he realises what he has ruined. The audience further and explicitly sees the realisation of his mistake and how he still cares for the family, as well as the progressive reintroduction of Sonja into shots of Leon – contrasting with the instant removal of Sonja from shots of Leon. Lawrence finally cuts from an extreme close-up showing Leon’s sorrow to an overhead view of Sonja lying with Leon. This is a change confirmed by the closing scene of the couple dancing, which serves to signal the change that has indeed occurred, resulting in a positive resolution.
Conversely, Nik and Paula are presented as a stereotypically happy couple, in a direct contrast to the other main relationships. While these characters are financially struggling, Lawrence uses several shots of the young family playing and relaxing together on the front lawn. Importantly, trust plays a key role in their relationship, meaning that when Nik is arrested and accused of murder conflict is temporary and quickly resolved within the couple. When Leon places Nik under arrest, shots are presented by Lawrence with slow pacing and slow transitions – symbolic of Nik’s calmness, knowing that he has done nothing wrong. Conversely, Paula is shown to be in a hectic state of mind and unsure of herself through the use of hard, quick cuts from a handheld camera. This changes when Paula hears Nik say, “I didn’t touch her, I didn’t babe”; at this point, transitions are slow and the camera stabilizes. This device has a profound effect on Leon, who later confesses his disloyalty to his wife after witnessing the trust in Nik and Paula’s relationship. However, the changes do not stop there; moments later, Paula is asked by her neighbour Jane O’May, “How do you know he didn’t [commit the murder]?” She simply replies, “he told me,” her calmness emphasised with this use of a close up, in turn leaving Pete and Jane contemplating their attempts to revive their relationship.
“United by grief,” John and Valerie have witnessed a world filled with horrors: “you don’t lose a daughter like Elenor without damage done.” They already experience conflict occurring within their relationship because of John’s internalisation of issues, resulting in the dissipation of love in their relationship; John explains to Leon that their relationship “was held together by grief, not much else was left.” Major conflict occurs however when Valerie is in her time of need and John knowingly turns his back on her – unknowingly leading to her death. It is established that John’s way of coping with the death of his daughter was to dissociate himself and internalise his issues. Valerie’s unfortunate death causes even more internal conflict to be built, through the guilt which John is shown to struggle with. Lawrence frames as John separate from other characters, and if John is in the same frame, he has his back turned away, creating the appearance of separation. Furthering this setup, Lawrence employs extreme close ups, as when John is leaning over the balcony after his informal interrogation, showing sadness and offering an empty expression. John finally reaches a point of change when he opens up to Leon – the first character he is framed with apart from Valerie, highlighting to the audience that he is in deep regret after convincing himself that she died because he refused to connect with her. Lawrence closes with a long shot of John overlooking the sunset, emphasizing to the audience that he realises that it is too late and that he knows he now has to live with that guilt. That said, when he opens up to Leon, John shows that he may have finally learned his lesson and will open up to those who still care about him.
Ray Lawrence uses several key cinematic techniques to effectively build various and interlinked conflicts between the multitude of central characters. This conflict occurs internally as with John, as well as with Leon and Nik’s personal relationships. Each and every one of these conflicts, however, acts as a direct catalyst in one form or another for change, often having widespread effects.