So we are going to move on from the bare bones of identification in film to something perhaps more complex. So, before I talked about the aspects of a film that one could point out that are essential to it, or, rather, are true of it. Just to remind you, we are talking about "Die Grosse Stille":
1)It is a film which portrays the life of monks in the Chartreuse Monastery in the Swiss Alps.
2)It contains images of scenery from both outside and inside the monastery.
3)It contains very little dialogue.
4)There are repeating scenes and imagery.
5)There is no non-diagetic (outside the realm of the film) sound.
6)There are intermittent cuts of quotes (assumedly from the Bible).
By noticing these things we are identifying what one could think of as the skeleton of the film. These aspects are what make up the film in its essence. The aspects of the film beyond these could be said to be interpretive, based on signifiers which are, what film theorists Christian Metz calls, imaginary. How can I explain that in more coherent terms? Let's take this one aspect: the small amount of dialogue. This is something that anyone will recognize, unless they are zombies who lick refrigerator doors when they are hungry. So this is a given.
Beyond this is what the viewer does with it. The sparse dialogue is what we call in film theory a signifier, in that it has the potential to suggest something. For instance, I may notice in Jim Jarmusch's films that the shots are quite static. This is significant and can point the viewer to a particular thing, or perhaps even an idea. So what can we say, potentially, by noticing the signifier in "Die Grosse Stille" of little dialogue? We could say any number of things. But I would argue that once we take that step, we enter that ethical arena where whatever we say can change the film.
Today I was listening to the director of "Forgiven" and he said, "This is your movie now. You've seen it." Is it our movie? I think there is some truth to this. But what about those critics who are imposing their interpretation of the film (or, THEIR version of the film) onto other viewers? If we have read a review of a film before watching it, we are indeed watching another film. So if I say, "go see this film because it has little dialogue (here comes the dangerous part) and that is good because it allows the viewer to think about the images instead of the words. To put it in other terms, we are urged to pay attention to what is NOT said." So you would go to this film thinking, "Okay, I am going to pay attention to what is NOT said. Good. I am excited about this. I know what's going on." But wait, what if the precious few moments of dialogue are in reality the most amazing moments of the film? What if the potential meaning for you lies in those moments? Your ability to connect to that film has been undermined. Hmmm... let me think about this. More on this topic to come...