Mirrors on the screen


Psychoanalytic reflections on Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers,

Joseph Losey’s The Servant and Michael Hanecke’s The Piano Teacher


A central premise of this panel is that the cinema screen is a special mirror which, by showing us objects of identification, idealization and denigration, can allow us to project on it different aspects of ourselves. Mirrors in films have an ambiguous function, as they offer the viewers a new perspective on the images projected on the screen, while at the same time also representing them in a more distant, and therefore more unreachable, emotional space. The panelists will illustrate their thought with reference to three films, from which they will show some relevant clips. Andrea Sabbadini will focus on Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003). With reference to the concept of mirroring in child development, to the Greek myth of Medusa, and to the place of narcissism in erotic relationships, he will focus his psychoanalytic lens on the long bathroom sequence which is the film’s central episode and turning point. In particular he will look at the specific function of the five mirrors included in the mise-en-scene, and focus on the multiple perspectives they provide to us spectators, as well as to the film’s three main characters themselves. By offering complex reflexions and distortions, as the reflecting objects are never identical to their reflected images these mirrors constitute a visually stunning support to the protagonists’ voice-overs, monologues and dialogues. These are centered on issues of voyeurism in the Primal Scene (as well as in cinema itself), and on the construction of identity within a triangular incestuous scenario.

In the filmdiscussed by Giuseppe Civitarese, Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963), the mirror is the true protagonist of the story. The mirror is used here in an incessant and virtuoso way, and acts as the concrete metaphor of an ongoing defective process of psychic mirroring – for example in the scenes where several figures are reflected together. The film shows how a persistently defective psychic mirroring in relation to primary objects can slowly lead to the corruption and perversion of the mind. Perhaps this could be the obscure knowledge contained in so many films where the protagonist sees himself reflected in the mirror as a monster.

In her presentation of The Piano Teacher by Michael Hanecke (2001), Simonetta Diena will comment on its continuous alternation of illusion and disillusionment, sustained by the apparently realistic representation of mirroring on the screen. The many mirrors in the film, which should reflect the everyday life in a normal bourgeois home, do not perform their task, as they never reflect the images of the main characters in front of them, thus failing in their representative function. A mirror which does not reflect the images loses its main purpose of representation of reality, and at the same time, preventing the mirroring of the spectators in the screen, it deprives the audience of the illusion that they could get a glimpse of the inner reality of the main characters. What the mirrors reflect remains therefore unknown to the audience. The panel focuses on the function of mirrors in cinema. Authors show and discuss clips from three films respectively directed by Bertolucci, Losey and Hanecke. Mirrors appear as one of the most effective and sophisticated tools to reflect complex psychological relationships among the characters and to offer the viewers original perspectives on them .


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