Comments on La Strada, Bleu, and Ethics

La Strada

I had a couple of ideas when we were talking in class about how the director of La Strada chose to give the mother so little screen time even though she was dominating the dialogue and was so emotional.

  • As Jeff pointed out this was the ’50’s and one of the golden rules (at least in the US) was that children should be seen and not heard, they should speak only when spoken to, therefore, it is natural the mother should dominate the conversation.
  • And I don’t feel as if the mother was a bad person, despite the fact she’s sold not one, but two children. I think the over-exaggerated emotion is attempting to push the viewer in this direction-to not despise and write the mother off as some evil, greedy so-and-so. Also I suppose one could say that the mother is playing to a stereotype-the stereotypical, emotional, exaggerated Italian.
  • A more interesting idea and one that incorporates a theory of why the mother received so little screen time is that our attention would naturally(instinctively) be drawn to the “head of the household”, which is often the parents and in this case the mother because there is no father present. So where we talked about how movies play to our instincts using formal characteristics, they also must take into consideration how to use formal characteristics to negate our instincts if necessary. That is, if there had been a “flat” shot of everyone on the screen and no one particular person in focus, we would probably have naturally focused on the mother, so the director chose to remove the mother from the screen hence we are forced to concentrate on other characters/things.


One comment that really stuck with me was Jordan’s comment about the boy playing the game-after showing several failed attempts, when the boy finally successfully brought the ball and stick together Jordan realized there was about to be a major change (and specifically he sensed a “bad” change/the car crash). Then I realized that this is almost immediate, literal foreshadowing. Think of the ball and stick game itself in abstract terms, the coming together of two objects in quite a crude way, in much the same way a crash between say a car and tree is the coming together of two objects in quite a crude way. Maybe then that is why we sense the crash coming (also combined with the knowledge picked up earlier with the dripping brakeline, etc) when finally the boy is successful with the ball and stick game.

Ethics & Values in Film

At the end of class we asked what ethics/values these movies deal with and why all of this (using formal characteristics to force viewers into specific perceptions) was significant. From the very small clips of each movie we saw, I believe both of these movies deal with the value of human life and its significance. La Strada with the selling of a person(Gelsimina), the worth of a person based on mental capacity or perhaps their output/contribution, and Bleu grappling with the value of human life and its effects by having someone struggling with the loss of human life.

So why is that all significant? Well, if movies can control our perception and reasoning regarding values (like human life) then it can be said that they can strongly influence what we define as right and wrong or what is good and bad (how about taking the example of war propaganda). Therefore, as a result film can heavily influence the shifts in the value system of an entire particular, broader society. Certainly then shaping individuals’ and societal views is a powerful role to have and thus comes the issue of responsibility. What responsibilities do those involved with the making of a film and the film itself have?

As Designers

So what can we as designers take from this discussion about films and their role? Well, simply stated our designs also are for a certain user in a particular role. While interacting with our design the user is forced into positions and perceptions, meaning we have just as much control over the perception of a user using our design as a film has over a viewer watching the movie; therefore, we need to recognize the powerful role our designs have as well and consider what responsibilities we as designers and our designs have over people, their values, and their development.


  1. laurabrunetti

    After feeling pretty good about my post and showing it to another, severely critical hci student who shall remain nameless, though sometimes goes by “hater,” I ended up pretty deflated. The response to “we need to recognize the powerful role our designs have as well and consider what responsibilities we as designers and our designs have over people, their values, and their development” was verbatim, “So what?”

    As much as I’d like to pretend I’m a genius and the first who’s ever had that revelation, I know I’m not and I also know I’m not the first to say, yes, it’s nice to have realized that, but how do we put that into practice? Is it only important to bring that point out into the open, or is it not good enough to say we just need to be aware and take that into account with every decision we make?

  2. jeffreybardzell

    Don’t let “hater” get you down. It is not a trivial thing to go from the ability to acknowledge a problem to implementing a truly successful solution. One of the intermediary phases between those two is to develop a critical eye in which you see the problem as it plays out in a number of various particulars. Thus, recognizing how camera angles participate in ethics is not a trival or banal insight (the fact that they do is more trivial, but actually seeing how it does with your own eyes is powerful). I can show something like that partially in class, but obviously you had some deeper insights about it afterwards. That’s valuable. And even if it doesn’t lead you immediately to a brilliant design solution, it is still a vital step in that process. Design doesn’t happen all at once in a flash of insight. How will you get to that brilliant solution if you don’t deeply understand how humans and artifacts shape each other? And how will you get that deep understanding if you don’t see and think through, as you have, many relevant examples? So I’m hating the hater, and please pass this bit o’ smack-down onto the appropriate HCIer. 🙂

  3. laurabrunetti

    Yea right on. Good point. I most definitely passed the opened can on to the “hater.” 😀 I’m not opposed to driving the point home with say, a double-teamed cheap shot during a rowdy driveway hockey match. Just throwin’ that out there..


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