Jeff Smith on Offscreen Sound in La cérémonie

Most film analysis centers on what is visible on-screen, but sometimes a moment can hinge on information that lies beyond the frame. In the latest installment of Observations on Film Art, a Criterion Channel series that explores the ins and outs of cinematic style, scholar Jeff Smith delves into the ways in which offscreen sound can build suspense, create a sense of heightened realism, or introduce a plot twist. The episode focuses on Claude Chabrol’s 1995 masterpiece La cérémonie, a finely calibrated tale of betrayal and murder that follows the dangerous relationship between an illiterate maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) working for a bourgeois family and an enigmatic postal worker (Isabelle Huppert) whose influence leads the pair down a path of violence. In the clip above, Smith contextualizes La cérémonie with examples from His Girl Friday, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and Knife in the Water, films that also demonstrate how sound design can be a powerful tool in the hands of a master auteur.

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