Visual economy in a film is always a great thing, but it can be dazzling when used to portray a character’s state of mind and explain why he’s about to embark on a certain course of action. There’s a moment near the beginning of Louis Malle‘s Damage, a masterful drama about an obsessive, self-destructive affair between a British politician (Jeremy Irons) and his son’s fiance (Juliette Binoche), that’s a good example of this.
Irons walks into his tres elegant, two-story home in Hampstead Heath at the end of the day and tells his wife (Miranda Richardson) about a meeting with the Prime Minister. The maid is fixing dinner, he’s feeling smug and successful and all is generally well. He makes himself a drink and strolls into the nearly living room. He take a sip and looks around, and the expression on his face says everything — he feels unfulfilled, unchallenged, unconnected. And Malle doesn’t dwell on Irons’ face. He shows it to us for maybe three seconds, and then fade to black. It tells us all we need to know about why he’s susceptible.
Can anyone think of other films and other moments in which something essential or fundamental about a character is explained in a single brief shot?