Palindromes–or sequences of symbols that can be interpreted the same way backwards and forwards–have been embraced by artists and designers in multiple mediums, from comics to poetry to classical music. You can now add to this body of reversible work what may be the world’s first watchable palindromic film. Called Symmetry, the film created by 24-year-old video designer Yann Pineill explores the enantiomorphic nature of love and loss.
Symmetry is a graduation project from Pineill’s time as a student at Parisian graphic design school ESAG-Penninghen. In it, he tells the story of a day in the life of a man and woman, who argue and split up for unknown reasons (which may have something to do with an empty bassinet seen at a couple of points in the film). Leaving the house, the man meets another woman and begins an affair, only to reconsider his actions and reconcile with his partner after looking at himself in the mirror (while Joseph Haydn’s palindromic Symphony No. 47 plays on the radio, no less).
It’s a short but powerful film, that explores the nature of symmetry in all its forms. Its palindromic nature comes about halfway through, when the film seemingly starts to “play backwards” even as the plot continues to progress. “I wanted the second half of the film to be perceived differently, even though the footage and sounds are exactly the same,” Pineill tells Co. Design.
Clever editing and careful structuring accomplish much of this effect. “The biggest challenge in making Symmetry was finding actions, sounds, and a plot that would work as well in reverse in a seemingly unnoticeable way,” say Pineill. Getting the actors to express emotion in a way that could be “reversed” into another emotion entirely was also a challenge.
“I would tell the actors to try to exist in a place between two feelings, such as between anger or pain, or sadness and puzzlement. Depending on which way the footage is played, the viewer automatically selects which emotion seems to be most suitable given the situation.”
Pineill was inspired to take this approach to Symmetry based upon the Kuleshov Effect, a famous film editing technique in which a viewer’s perception of a static shot (such as a statue’s face) is changed by the juxtaposition of other shots (such as a kitten playing, or a child starving).
According to Pineill, perfect symmetry doesn’t exist, so much as it is a theoretical concept. Likewise, Symmetry doesn’t attempt to perfectly mirror itself, so much as use the palindrome for a metaphor of the duality and balance of love. So don’t just watch half: Just as a human face can look radically different when its left and right symmetry are reversed, the ending of Symmetry will startle you more than you could expect.
Co.Design has previously written about Yann Pineill’s beautiful film about the crystalline beauty of math.