– Summer 2010

Frames and Bodies — Notes on Three Films by Pedro Costa: Ossos, No Quarto da Vanda, Juventude em Marcha

Jean-Louis Comolli

Pedro Costa, Ossos (Bones), 1997, colour 35mm film, 94min, still. © Pedro Costa

Pedro Costa, Ossos (Bones), 1997, colour 35mm film, 94min, still. © Pedro Costa


The question of the body in cinema - of the filmed body - is inseparable from the question of the frame. Like the visible body, the visible world is framed by cinema.1 We could say that everything that is cinema, good or bad, is framed and has always been framed. The filmic image, the photogram, the shot are framed and cannot be otherwise. This is not the case with visual events we can group together under the heading 'spectacles'. A fireworks display, a circus act, a military parade, an airplane taking off, a tall building exploding: all these appear to their initial viewers as unframed, meaning that they are viewed within the same spatial field as normal human vision (180 degrees). These events are only placed in a frame when they are filmed. In opera or the theatre, the stage is framed on three sides, but the very nature of these dimensions - despite the fact that they are fixed - keeps the stage's wings from functioning like the off-screen of cinema: one knows that the wings, backstage, are contiguous with the stage, that they are its extension and do not amount to the otherness of an 'outside'.

This is not the case in film. There the frame by definition restricts our normal field of vision, which becomes limited, constrained, truncated. The viewer's gaze is framed at the same time as the space being observed. The film frame, therefore, is a direct expression of the confinement of the scopic impulse. My desire to see has been framed: limited and formatted by this rectangular opening which is not present in normal perception and

  1. In this article the author makes full use of the range of a word's meaning in the French, which is often difficult to render in translation. In the original, the visible world is not merely 'framed' by cinema; the verb used, encadrer, also means to regulate, monitor, control, legislate, etc., often in a repressive and/or official sense. The noun form used in the previous sentence, cadre (frame), thus carries a sense of repression and confinement. This term, for example, also designates workplace management personnel, while workers lower on the ladder are encadrés: their work is regulated and subjected to disciplined control. These sorts of meanings underlie the terms frame and framed throughout the text. -Trans.

  2. André Bazin, 'Peinture et cinéma', Qu'est-ce que le cinéma?, Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1999, p.188.