This 40-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into twelve sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.


SEQUENCE 1 (DVD Chapters 1/2: 10 mins)
Let the film roll until Tessa says “Put this on!”

Before the production company logo fades from the screen the soundtrack presents the sound of a car engine shutting off. We hear a man’s voice as a door is closed. A woman answers. These are Justin and Tessa. Both sound British and upper class. Because Grace Mankanga will not be coming to Nairobi, Tessa is going to Loki to hear her speak. The visuals fade in as she tells Justin that it is too hot to be standing around. (Film is an audio visual medium and the director, Fernando Meirelles, will find many opportunities in the course of this story to exploit the artistic possibilities inherent in this dichotomy.) Tessa kisses Justin lovingly. A light aircraft waits for her on the tarmac. A shadow appears on the left of the screen and we learn that this is Arnold. He is going to travel to Loki with Tessa. As they head for the airplane he takes Tessa’s bag for her. We see Justin in silhouette in the foreground as they move away into the increasingly bright exterior. This is the beginning of a recurring motif: throughout the film Tessa will be associated with light and brightness. What seemed like a close, loving relationship might appear a little ambiguous now. Justin is dressed rather formally for Kenya’s climate. He waves goodbye, telling Tessa that he will see her in a few days. There is a catch in his voice, a certain hesitancy. The noise of an aircraft taking off adds to our sense of his unease. The scene that started in darkness ends in over-exposure as the light bleaches out our view of Tessa, Arnold and the airplane, concentrating our attention on the dark shadow of Justin’s silhouette. Justin, presented in this way, cuts a slightly forlorn figure.

A quick cut and clashing, metallic sound act as the transition to the next scene. The unease felt by the audience is increased to by the big close-up shots and the oblique angle at which the camera is held. (Throughout the film this kind of camerawork will be repeated giving a sense of unease, a sense of not quite knowing exactly what is going on.) The focus is slightly off and we seem to see a jeep toppling over in slow motion. We can see what is happening but somehow we don’t get the full picture. The first scene was presented without a cut. Now we get a montage of twelve images of an army truck arriving and soldiers removing bodies from the overturned jeep. Many of the shots are taken at an oblique angle. An extended insert of a flock of frightened birds closes the scene and adds to our unease – some disruption, we are not sure what, has been visited on this world. The beauty of the birds in flight contrasts starkly with the harsh sounds and images we have been presented with. The screen fades to black. In these opening scenes good and evil, the natural and the man-made have all been presented. Light and darkness, camerawork and fast and slow editing have been used in the imagery to emphasise these contrasting themes.

The next scene fades in with an image of a jeep with the letters CD in its registration. Whereas the image changes, the musical theme from the previous scene play over the action. The director is using the dichotomy between the audio and visual tracks to link these scenes by letting us know that there is a connection between them even though we have cut to a different location. The jeep enters the compound of The British High Commission and the significance of the Corps Diplomatique registration number is revealed to us. A minimalist wind and percussion musical theme accompanies the next cut to a man sitting in an office. This is Sandy Woodrow. He is photographed through the bars of the office blinds. He is agitated and is lit in a way that leaves him half in darkness. The secretary informs him that somebody has arrived and an external long shot that fades to black adds to our sense of his unease. This wide shot seems to emphasise the difficulty Sandy has in covering the ground between his office and Justin’s. It also highlights the contrast between the two men: one preoccupied and the other watering his plants without a care in the world. The camera distance changes to medium. It is significant that Justin says that Sandy has caught him “skiving”. His penchant for gardening will become a recurring motif in the first half of the film and constitutes a major part of the imagery of the film. The camera has moved back inside and another medium shot brings us closer to the action. Then, as Sandy tries to give his news, we cut to an even closer shot of the pair. He seems genuinely upset as he gives the details of what happened. In a long take that last all of forty six seconds, the camera holds Justin in close-up as Sandy delivers the harsh story of Tessa’s probable fate. He has quite a bit of detail, including the fact that Tessa and Arnold shared a room before they hired a car and driver to take them home. In a conversation involving two characters the editor will normally cut from one to the other as each speaks in turn. Here, however, as the camera holds on him, we are invited to empathise with Justin’s grief. He seems to be a man of some mental strength as he takes the news of his wife’s death stoically. As a gentle theme begins to play on strings, he thanks Sandy. We will see this side of him again in the story. He is a gentle man who has great consideration for others and appreciates the kindness they show to him. This is coupled with an inner strength that allows him to suppress the emotion that might overwhelm another. He absent-mindedly breaks a pod from a cactus and the camera, in big close-up, shows a drop of water. This prop acts as an objective correlative for his grief. He is heart-broken but holds his emotions in check. The bead of water acts for the audience like pathetic fallacy and reflects how he really feels: he would cry but is too reserved to do so.

Once again the director exploits the duality of the medium and lets the audio track lead the visual to facilitate the transition to the next scene. We hear Justin’s voice reading Sir Bernard Pellegrin’s lecture with something less than enthusiasm. The topic is diplomacy and Pellegrin uses figurative language in his conclusion. His words “.. pointing nations the safest way through country fraught with peril” echo the literal words of Justin earlier as he described Tessa’s journey home through “Dangerous country”. The difference between literal and figurative speech will come up again in the course of the narrative. The listeners are seated in semi-darkness for the lecture and treat it with polite disinterest. Tessa stands to question Britain’s use of, or rather, disregard for, diplomacy in joining the USA in the war against Iraq. She seems to have done this sort of thing before, judging by the reaction of some of the listeners. As she speaks the blinds begin to rise. Once again we have Tessa associated with light. She wants to dispel the obfuscation of Pellegrin’s words and bring the true nature of Britain and America’s disregard for the processes of the United Nations to light. She refers to the Iraq war as “Vietnam - The Sequel”. She comes across as very feisty and quick-witted: Justin’s limp riposte that diplomats have to go where they are sent leads to a retort about Labradors that is appreciated by everyone in the room. As her fellow listeners call for her to be more moderate, Justin comes to her defence, acknowledging that there is indeed some merit in what Tessa has to say. But she gets more and more angry, frustrated at the power that commercial interests wield over governments. She raises her voice against the protests of her listeners, but only succeeds in alienating them with her left-wing viewpoint. Justin is able to dissociate the person from the opinion and is fair-minded enough to see that it is her passion that is driving Tessa on.

Finally we see Tessa in a long shot from Justin’s point of view as she stands alone and abandoned in the empty room. A second shot of her from the other end of the room further emphasises her isolation. Justin walks to her and tries to comfort her by mentioning how courageous she was. “Completely rude” is Tessa’s preferred description of her behaviour. Although we know that he is reserved and self-contained, we see that he can recognise and appreciate the passion that drove her to act as she did. She thanks him for trying to protect her. (The theme of protecting and being protected will be developed as the narrative progresses.) We see another side of Justin when he admits that the lecture was dull. It is not very diplomatic of him to describe the talk in such a way, but he does not take his job too seriously, as was hinted at in the previous scene, when he went “skiving” by watering his plants. This side of him is reinforced at the close of the scene when he uses the words “absolute bollocks” to describe Sir Bernard’s lecture. There is, once again, an overexposure, a flooding of the camera with light, as Justin and Tessa walk down the corridor.

As he walks along the Chelsea street with Tessa, Justin admits that he is feeling nervous. The musical theme begins to build and the hand-held camera films them going in the gate and awkwardly to Tessa’s flat. This type of camerawork features extensively in the film to different effects. The intimacy of the love scene is highlighted by the closeness of the camera to the lovers. They come in and out of focus as they undress. The scene is brightly lit and the musical theme plays until Justin refers gauchely to the wonderful gift Tessa has bestowed on him. Perhaps this is a function of the nervousness he admitted to on the way to the house. The absence of the musical theme accentuates his embarrassment. Tessa playfully enjoys his discomfiture and then admits she feels safe with him. This reminds us of her line back in the lecture hall about how Justin tried to protect her. Justin sees the incongruity of them making a match as he tries to picture Tessa leading the revolution as a six-year-old. “No! I was very conventional” she replies, using a word would suit Justin perfectly.

These two scenes are a flashback to the first meeting of Justin and Tessa. We now have something of their back-story, a story of the conventional older man and the revolutionary younger woman. An enigma has been set up: how did such opposites attract each other and how did their relationship develop? The role of Arnold also fascinates us. Very often such an enigma is set up at the start of a narrative and the solving of it becomes the engine that drives the plot forward.