A fade-in, the sun is about to set in the cloudless sky above the sea. A male voice from off screen: “What are we waiting for?” Music enters. A female voice asks: “Do you know what the Green Ray is?” Two, who have not known each other for long sit next to each other and keep looking towards the sunset. Their names are Jacques and Delphine. It is the last scene of a flm. “No, what is it?” – “That’s the last ray of sunset.” The sun touches the horizon. Delphine sobs. “Are you crying?” She tells herself not to cry. Jacques keeps on looking towards the sun, as if that is where the explanation for Delphine’s emotional turmoil is to be found. He wipes a tear from her cheek and leads her head towards his shoulder. “Look!” Together they look towards the sunset, we see how the sun has already sunk a little deeper behind the sea line. And as if he had suddenly understood, Jacques says: “Wait…”, looks at Delphine, and then follows her gaze again. Their eyes are wide open, they dare not blink. The sun is now merely a dome, sinking deeper as we are getting ever closer to its disappearance. Delphine and Jacques hold their breath. The music expands, the sun sets…

When I saw this scene for the frst time and only later the entire flm, I was holding my breath too. I allowed myself to be carried away by the joy of expectation, also by the romance of the situation. And most of all by wonder. You want to be amazed and allow yourself to be seduced and then you wonder. I set out in search of the green ray as well. For two summers I tried to watch all kinds of sunsets over the sea. A few times, when the weather seemed particularly good, I went to certain places so that no peninsula, no house, nothing would get in the way of the spectacle. In these summers I never saw the green ray.

I take another look at the flm. I am looking for a scene that I remember vaguely (my memories are rarely concrete, they are more in the nature of premonitions). It is an early cloudy day in August and four women and one man talk about a book by Jules Verne. Delphine catches the words “Le Rayon Vert” as she passes by and pays attention. One of the women tells how as a child she was by the sea: “I was there with my father who told me about the book. It was a clear, dry day. The sky was cloudless. He said ‘Maybe we’ll be lucky today’ and I saw it that day, just for a split second, as the sun set on the horizon, you could see, in the very last stage, something like a short green light, a fash, like the blade of a sword, a ray on the horizon, beautiful, but very, very short.“ – “Today, we won’t see it if you look at the sky: (…)” and the flm editor, María Luisa García, cuts to a cloudless sky, orange tinted by the light of the setting sun, which at this moment still stands as a clear yellowish-white disc above the horizon. The voices continue: “completely misty and …” – “It is cloudy and grey. No chance.”

Time and place of the sunset and its contemplation only come together in the flm. And although this construction is so obvious and even highlighted, the narrative’s spell is never broken. The construction is of no importance at all and perhaps this is astonishing. For it seems so simple, so easy. I then read somewhere that the green ray that can be seen in the flm is a trick shot. I have the solemn shout of Delphine in my ear as the sun suddenly disappears behind the sea (because in the end, despite all the expectability, it is a very surprising moment).

Two, who have not known each other for long sit next to each other and keep looking towards the sunset. Their names are Ida and Vladimir. She wipes a tear from his cheek and leads his head to her shoulder. She looks at Vladimir, then follows his gaze towards the sun. Their eyes are wide open, they dare not blink. Ida and Vladimir hold their breath. We are on a sailing ship and repeat the scene over and over again. Each gesture is performed as close as possible to the original scene, although there is no talking in this new scene. I have not yet set up the camera, as it is a rehearsal. The ship moves our bodies incessantly, swaying them into the waves and out again with each repetition. Later in the day the high mountains of an island will light up red in the sunset and I decide that this should be the background for the scene to be shot.

Now, I read the summary of the book “Le Rayon Vert” by Jules Verne and notice that the main character has the same first name as me. Her two uncles, with whom she had grown up, organise a sailing trip in search of the green ray, as she refuses to marry before she had seen this rare atmospheric-optical natural phenomenon. Isn’t that amazing? I also notice that the green ray, which is clearly visible in the clip of the fnal scene of “Le Rayon Vert“ by Eric Rohmer on YouTube, does not flash on the DVD. For a moment I ask myself why this might be the case and whether it plays a role. And if it does play a role, then which one?

On the sailing ship we prepare the shooting of the scene. A certain excitement is in the air, it is only a short period of time that the mountains light up red in the sunlight. The actors prepare for the moment, repeating the precise gestures. While the two of them silently repeat the scene, we are moving out to the sea. Gradually the sun approaches the waterline. We shoot on flm and there are about ninety metres of material left in the magazine. We try to wait for the best moment to start shooting. I look at the sun, at the mountains, at the faces of Ida and Vladimir. I know that from a certain moment the sun will go down very quickly. The mountains are not yet bathed in red light, but the faces of Ida and Vladimir are glowing golden. We shoot. Ida and Vladimir look at each other. They are accomplices. He turns back to the sun. Then she brings his head to her shoulder and wipes a tear from his cheek. It is very quiet on board, with the camera I have my back turned to the sun. The light changes with every second. We decide to shoot the scene a second time. Behind the camera, I might be breathing in the same rhythm as Ida and Vladimir in front of it. My body compensates for the rolling of the ship in the waves, the background changes from water to mountains, up and down. When this take is over, the mountains in the background start to shimmer in magenta. We continue flming and it becomes like a ritual, the repetition of the scene heightening the situation, it seems to me, and without turning my gaze to the sun I know that it will not be long before it sets. There is no actual reason, but we shoot the ^scene a fourth time. “Because I feel like it. That’s why. It’s as simple as that,” says Jacques in Rohmer’s flm before he turns to the sun. We laugh, we are touched when the fourth take is done. I look at the magazine. Six meters are still left. Someone looks stunned at the sun and points at it. I turn around, there are only a few moments left until it will set. But what should end this flm reel, if not the setting sun? We shout, the ship has to turn in a little so that the sail is out of the way. I hear the material running through the camera. I saw it! Just for a split second, as the sun set on the horizon, I could see, in the very last stage, something like a short green light, a flash, like the blade of a sword, a ray on the horizon, beautiful, but very, very short. I solemnly cry out, tell the others, I am excited. Nobody really believes me: it might have been my strong desire, perhaps my imagination had been very convincing. I definitely had lost the sense of time. Six metres of flm material. Maybe twenty seconds.

One of the women says: “You know what Jules Verne says? Whoever sees the green ray will understand one’ s own feelings and those of others.” – “Really? That’s fantastic! If that’s true, now that we’ve seen the ray, we have an extra lucid perception.”

About The Author

Helena Wittmann is a German filmmaker and artist.

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