The opening long, slow zoom onto the exterior of a house, tilted toward an upper floor, tellingly suggests what at least will be the style of the film to come, if not also the pacing. The movement of the camera in this film is consistently slow, but in that slowness hangs a kind of suspense, something that can elicit a powerful spectator interest by a very subtle means. Long takes also abound here, with that slowly gliding camera that patiently sutures us to the main character and lets us move and wait with him. The zooms almost seem to act as the film’s own deepening fascination with him when he’s at his most pensive. So, precisely at the point when a more mainstream cinema would become bored, Eternity and a Day is all the more intrigued by what is there in the frame and also not in it.
What the frame contains is constantly interrogated and, for lack of a better term, screwed with. Flashbacks usually are not signaled by cuts but rather by camera pans, as if the present and the past exist in the same spatial plane. In the last shot, the specter of his wife leaves the frame as he’s talking to her and watching her, but once she’s out of our sight, she’s also out of his. So what is in the frame is what is here and now and real. No need to cut, the film suggests, when you can just move the camera. Space and time are collapsed. Early in the film, the image of a clock appears to be projected onto a hearth (see above image), achieving something more or other than the traditional clock itself. Whereas a clock or timepiece spatializes the temporal, the projection of light and shadow onto a surface, complete with a moving seconds hand, destabilizes the space and objective character of the clock. At the very least, this clock is intangible, evanescent, and elusive.
Time is everywhere here, the main idea being explored. All of the above illustrates this, along with almost everything else in the film. See the miss-en-scene, such as the black-and-white photos and the flashbacks not simply to other memories but to other times altogether. Someone says about the year 1966, “That was my day.” A poet is discussed who wrote a long, unfinished poem, then spent the rest of his life trying to finish it, “but he ran out of time and couldn’t find the words.” See, too, how sound and the musical soundtrack function in concert with the images, camera movement, and editing. Just as the images are big, so to is the temporal scope of this film. Scenes collapse into the scenes that follow, by means of diegetic sound. In the morgue scene, we have temp mort. A very long camera take with lots of movement during a wedding scene only finally cuts to another shot once the diegetic music halts. More temp mort in the long, slow zoom onto the boy’s face with an effigy to his dead friend lighting his tears. “How long does tomorrow last?” “An eternity and a day.” Finally, the imagery of shores, the sea, as evocative of tomorrow, the future, eternity. You see it here, in The Tree of Life, in Children of Men, and so many others.