Proof: Betrayal in the park
Andy (Russell Crowe) meets Celia (Geneviève Picot) at Martin’s house. She has not known of his existence in Martin’s life until just before this scene. She tells him that Martin is in the park, walking his dog. When he arrives in the park, Andy witnesses a bizarre scene. Celia sits on a bench, secretly luring Bill the dog to her side, where she holds his collar while Martin calls. When Martin takes a series of photographs, Andy rushes to hide behind a tree. Summary by Paul Byrnes.
This scene in the park is a kind of homage to Alfred Hitchcock and it’s superbly done. There is no dialogue and point of view is rigorously controlled. Tension builds as Andy walks into the park, observing people picnicking. The bicyclist adds to the surprise, and the angle of the camera keeps Russell Crowe’s head isolated, so we can’t see what’s behind him – at least until the dog walks to Celia. The real masterstroke is when we see Andy in the viewfinder of the camera, and he realises he’s going to be photographed. Why does he automatically jump for the tree? He has done nothing wrong, but he realises he would have to lie to Martin about the photo, or implicate Celia. The question of why he doesn’t want to do this is intriguing. He has only just met her and he has seen that she’s capable of cruel deception of Martin – the man she believes she loves. Still, his first instinct is to lie, by jumping for cover. It’s possibly because he already knows he wants to sleep with her. That’s certainly her interpretation later in the film, when she tells Andy he lied for her ‘in case’.
Martin (Hugo Weaving) is a 32-year-old blind photographer. He lives alone and trusts no-one, especially not his housekeeper Celia (Geneviève Picot), who loves him in secret. Their antagonistic relationship is disturbed when Martin meets Andy (Russell Crowe), a kitchen hand at a local Italian restaurant. Andy becomes Martin’s eyes – the only person he trusts to describe what is in the photographs. When Celia realises that her role is threatened, she seduces Andy. Having failed to make Martin love her, she tries to prove that he can’t trust Andy. Martin grew up doubting his mother’s love, always wanting proof that what she told him was true. Celia proves that she was not lying, and that she loves him. Martin fires her and renews his friendship with Andy.
Proof curator's notes
Proof was the astonishing debut feature of Jocelyn Moorhouse, who had graduated from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in the mid-1980s. She heard a story around 1986 about a blind photographer; the idea intrigued her for its philosophical possibilities. How does a person, blind since birth, establish a sense of truth? Martin takes photographs, but he must still rely on someone else to describe them. What if that person decides to lie?
The script works so well because it establishes its own slightly aberrant world, but depicts it as normal. Martin and Celia have been taunting each other for the three-and-a-half years that she has worked for him. She loves him, but he will not acknowledge her feelings, even to himself. He will not give her the satisfaction of feeling pity, so he treats her with contempt. She moves furniture around in his home so he’ll trip over – a reminder of his helplessness and her power to hurt him whenever she wants. When Andy enters the story, their private war is well underway. He has no idea what he’s dealing with, or the ruthlessness that each is capable of.
One of the script’s great strengths is that Moorhouse maintains a sense of vulnerability within each character, even as they do their worst. Each is incomplete. Martin has both a physical and spiritual disability; Celia and Andy may be able of body but each has a brooding need for connection. Andy feels like a no-hoper, an itinerant, which is why Martin’s need for his help – to describe the photographs – gives him a sense of purpose. Celia’s desire to love is so strong she puts up with Martin’s humiliations just so she can be near him. Martin’s flashbacks to childhood, when his distrust of the world began, help us to accept how he might have become this pitiful and pitiless adult – a man so lonely and yet so proud that he’d rather be hated than pitied.
The film has an almost Hitchcockian darkness, tinged with bleak humour that’s worthy of Roman Polanski. The scene in the park, where Celia demonstrates her power by holding on to Bill, Martin’s seeing-eye dog, is constructed as a perfect Hitchcock sequence – it shifts the vulnerability from Martin’s inability to see to Andy’s fear of being seen by a man whose only weapon is a camera. It’s the point in the film where Andy begins to lie – something he didn’t think he was capable of.
Moorhouse’s skilful understanding of the metaphors of sight and the power of the image make the film mysterious on multiple levels. It’s a textbook example of how to keep a film’s logistics simple – three actors, very few locations – while sacrificing nothing in terms of thematic complexity and dramatic impact. None of these actors was particularly well known in 1991; each gives a superb performance in a film that has lost none of its sting since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, followed by the Sydney Film Festival, in mid-1991. The film won six awards at the Australian Film Institute awards in late 1991, including best director and best original screenplay for Jocelyn Moorhouse. Weaving won the AFI for best actor, Crowe won for best supporting actor and Picot was nominated for best actress (she lost to Sheila Florance, in A Woman’s Tale).
Notes by Paul Byrnes
This clip shows how skillful editing and camera work and sparse layered dialogue portray the three protagonists, Andy (Russell Crowe), Celia (Geneviève Picot) and Martin (Hugo Weaving), and reveal their complex relationships. Andy meets Celia, Martin’s housekeeper, when he goes to visit Martin, a blind man who hopes to ‘know’ the world through his photographs, which Andy describes for him. When Andy goes to the park to find Martin, who is taking photographs, he witnesses Celia’s manipulative power as she lures Martin’s dog away from him.
Educational value points
- The unusual triangular relationship between the protagonists is effectively portrayed in a few intensely observed moments. Celia’s mischievous sarcastic exchange with Andy about Martin, followed by her devious manipulation in the park, betrays her possessiveness of Martin. Martin’s isolation is shown as he moves around the park taking photographs to capture a world he cannot see. Andy, confused by Celia’s behaviour, runs to avoid being photographed by Martin.
- The dialogue between Celia and Andy reveals the threat she feels when Andy appears unexpectedly. The nature of Celia and Martin’s relationship, which seems to be dependent, possessive and fractious, is evident in Celia’s curt sardonic replies to Andy’s good-natured questions. Her defensive body language reinforces the impression that she is resentful of Martin’s friendship with and dependence on Andy, which may supplant her role.
- The amplification of sound effects as Andy walks through the park is designed to anticipate Martin’s imminent appearance. The sounds in this scene, such as the sharp laughter of the picnicking women and the growling of the dog fetching a stick, are amplified beyond normal audible levels, approximating the heightened aural awareness of a blind person. This replicates and demonstrates Martin’s experience for the viewer.
- In the scene in the park, tension is built by intercutting shots of Andy in close-up with shots of other people enjoying the park, Martin taking photographs and Celia’s mysterious arrival and departure. The focus on Andy’s face in close-ups reveals his confusion and his perplexed response to Celia’s behaviour. Tension is created as he looks from Martin to Celia and back to Martin, before realising he must quickly avoid being photographed by Martin.
- The use of cutaway shots as Andy walks through the park compresses both time and distance. The editing technique known as ‘cutaways’ is used to integrate secondary activities that occur at the same time as the main action – here, Andy walking to meet Martin. Cutting to the picnicking women and the running dog spares the viewer awkward jumps in place and time while Andy’s arrival at his destination is expedited, avoiding any slowdown in the action.
- The lingering low shot of Celia’s legs as she lures the dog to her side obscures her motive from the viewer. As the dog approaches Celia, whom the viewer recognises by her familiar clothes, the camera remains fixed on the lower half of her body for a fraction longer than expected, subtly creating doubt in the viewer’s mind. It is only after she grasps the dog by its collar that her face is shown, her mocking look expressing the power she enjoys over Martin.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia