Story of a Love Affair: The Lift Scene
by Changwon Choi
Written by Alex Chase and Tim Holland
In Cinema 2, Deleuze posits Antonioni’s 1950 film—along with works by Visconti and Fellini—as exemplifying both the crisis of the action-image and the development of a direct time-image, what he calls “pure optical and sound situations” (5). In this scene, we find the two lovers returning once again to each other, but also to their past, and to their fatalistic future. Their collective guilt for the previous “crime” of not outwardly preventing a death is not shown in a dreamy flashback that situates the stability of the present, but rather through the injection of a past into both psychic and physical realms, making the two indiscernible from each other. This indiscernability “…will endow the camera with a rich array of functions, and entail a new conception of the frame and reframings” (23). Importantly, the tryst begins as happenstance—Paola ducks into the lobby of a hotel to avoid being seen by her husband and Guido follows. With it being to risky to exit the lobby, the lovers decide to climb the stairs for privacy, all the while avoiding and orbiting the elevator lift. But the lift trails the couple as the past: it signifies something they cannot escape, their fate manifesting itself in the present, as they did then, they do now. Deleuze states that, “Story of a Love Affair already exhibits a ‘camera autonomy’ when it stops following the movement of the characters or directing its own movement at them, to carry out constant reframings as functions of thought, noosigns expressing the logical conjunctions of sequel, consequence, or even intention” (24). The lovers are haunted by time. As the lift ascends, its sound and shadow re-inscribe the lovers in their shared past, a past that is forecasting its continual return in the future; the lift reminds us that they are destined for a catastrophe.
Deleuze views Story of a Love Affair as a slight mutation of the typical “Eros is sick” formula that Antonioni himself had championed in response to his own work. Instead of simply signifying the alienation of man in a modern, industrial landscape, or “feelings which go from the objective to the subjective, and are internalized by everyone,” (8) Antonioni’s particular “sickness” is created by presenting objective images through “rapid breaks, interpolations and ‘infinitesimal injections of atemporality’: for example, the lift scene in Story of a Love Affair,” or the past “returning” visually and aurally in the present. For Deleuze, these “breaks” from the usual linear progression of a narrative—elucidated by the coincidence of the lover’s tryst at the hotel lobby and staircase—engender “the first form of the any-space-whatever: disconnected space.” Here, the connection of the space (objective) to the characters (subjective) is not readily available or viable because it does not belong to them: “it can come about only from the subjective point of view of a character who is nevertheless, absent, or has even disappeared, not simply out of frame, but passed into the void.” As the lovers randomly find themselves climbing the swirling stairs around the lift and re-experiencing the tragedy of the past, they are being watched by the dead friend; the life they failed to save spies on them. Like the missing woman in Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960), the objective, the any-space-whatever, becomes subjective state of a ghost, not an embodied character. The lovers’ suffering, whether alone, in their respective social circles, or with one another, is correlated to the absence of the dead woman and the couple’s secret and guilt regarding that absence. This unseen character has, in a way, disappeared into time itself. Through this proximity with time within a disconnected space, the absent subject haunts the lovers.