Leo McCarrey, Etats-Unis, 1957, Théâtre du Temple
The scene is about two characters who fall in love during an crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a luxury liner. They cannot give in to the attraction as she is married and his rich fiancée is waiting for him on arrival. At the beginning of the extract, on the deck, with stars in the background, the harmless talk on the day they just had is a way to hide their love feelings. The man gets closer to the woman, like for Happy End kiss under the stars, but she slips away saying “let’s walk a bit”. They move to the staircase where the camera waits for them on the lower level for a long sequence shot which will last until they part at the end of the scene.
Masking was often used in classical cinema to evoke a sexual scene, or even nudity, which censorship would have forbidden. The most frequent example is the typical shot where the couple goes towards the bed and the camera does panoramic shot on the fireplace to hide the sexual scene and show it as a metaphor: the fire of passion.
Nothing like this here. First what we could have seen holds nothing transgressive or that can’t morally be shown: it’s a classical and romantic kiss like in thousands of film in Hollywood cinema. It is neither down to censorship nor self-censorship; it is a very elegant figure of speech chosen by the film-maker for the spectator. The other strangeness of this shot is that it’s not the camera (the enunciation) who hides not to show the scene, but the characters themselves who go out of the frame as if to hide away, because of modesty, from the camera and the spectator. This is how they preserve the intimacy of the relationship that cannot happen and must be kept secret.
The couple arrives at the bottom of the stairs and stop moving in the frame, the man appearing in full and the woman cut off at the waist. She goes back up a step and leads the man, holding his hand, to do the same.
The kiss will therefore be filmed as a close shot from the waist down, reversing the close shot normally showing the characters’ top part of the body and their faces in classical cinema