All great achievements require time. By the end of this documentary, the viewer feels like they know the great achievements Amar is capable of, and the ones he desires. Really, there are two compositional techniques that the director uses to beautifully accomplish this feat, extreme close ups, and lack of sound.
The first shots of the piece show an entire family, cramped into a small apartment. The camera pans over the tangle of bodies, all in a cool blue light and eventually, the lens finds our protagonist. Making quick cuts between the family and Amar establish that he stands out, that he will be the focus of the documentary. Amar is the fist person we see completely alone, and engaging in a specific action (washing hair/brushing teeth). From the beginning, all shots of Amar are either close ups or ecus. This creates a distinct intimacy with the protagonist, it feels like it is just the viewer and the subject.
When Amar leaves his apartment, before the sun even rises, we see him riding his bike, and the camera follows his actions, still in close-up form. He does not appear to be alone because we are with him, we feel like we are riding along side, and with him when he goes to pick up the papers. This makes the extreme long shot at 2:30 a particular jarring and sobering experience. The viewers can see just how alone this young boy is at 4 in the morning, riding his bike down a shady ally between apartment buildings. The only light is from a streetlamp, and the cold blue light that comes from the early pre-dawn hours. This is the first time in the film when we are not right there with Amar, sharing his experiences.
The intimacy between the viewer and the subject the director creates is on full display when Amar is in class, and we hear him talk for the first time. This scene is as startling, jarring, and insightful as the first long establishing shot, when we realize we are not actually riding with Amar. The best analogy for this classroom scene is when a popular book gets converted into a film. Fans know the characters well, and despite the fact that they know their motivations, their backstory, their life, they don’t know how they sound. When they hear the actors voice for the first time, often it is not what they imagined it would be. The same is true for Amar. Even though we’ve been with him for only 6 minutes, we feel like we truly know this boy, we see the clothes he wears, the work he does, the words he studies, we feel like we’ve know him and his routine forever.
Not hearing Amar speak until 6 minutes in (he doesn’t speak again until the end of the film) also helps with intimacy. This seems counter intuitive, but by not speaking we actually feel closer with the subject. On an emotional level, it is like best friends, who know each other so well they don’t feel the need to pass time with small talk, they just revel in the moments they spend together. In the extreme close-ups we often see a little smile in the corner of Amar’s face, reinforces this feeling. There is also a practical reason behind not having Amar speak; it makes the film universal. Any one in the world can watch this film and follow it. If Amar spoke, it would tie the movie to a specific market, and if subtitles would be used, we would not feel the same emotional connection to the subject. Instead of looking at every detail of Amar’s life, and learning about him visually, we would be concerned with what he was saying and listening to the how he pronounced words. Just having the noise of the city in the background is enough to immerse the viewer in Amar’s day.
1. Soft focus: While at times it was a little overused, I enjoyed the way the director would focus on Amar and have everything blurry in the background, then change and show the detail of the environment and blur the subject. Helps the viewer focus on one thing at a time.
2. Overwhelming intimacy: When Amar first goes to school, and we the sea of children, the ecu’s make the scene claustrophobic and overwhelming. We lose Amar and are stuck in a crowd of school kids , and we can see each of their faces. The subject gets to stand out again in the classroom though.
3. The literal interpretation of the “time” in “All great achievements require time” was also a fantastic choice. Showing the time of day to take the viewer through Amar’s day in a linear fashion was beautiful.
4. Amar works really hard.