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Cinéma vérité


Cinéma vérité

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Cinéma vérité is a style of filmmaking, combining naturalistic techniques that originated in documentary filmmaking, with the storytelling elements typical of a scripted film. It is also known for taking a provocative stance toward its topics. The name is French and means, roughly, "cinema of truth".

Cinéma vérité aims for an extreme naturalism, using non-professional actors, nonintrusive filming techniques, hand-held camera, genuine locations rather than sound stages, and naturalistic sound without substantial post-production mixing or voiceovers.

As Bill Nichols points out, the reality effect of a new mode of documentary representation tends to fade away when "the conventional nature of this mode of representation becomes increasingly apparent". In other words, new modes initially appear to be true, unvarnished "reality" on the screen, but as time goes by that mode's conventions become more and more obvious. Such is certainly the case with cinéma vérité whose conventions can now appear quite mannered and open for critique.



The term originates in the translation of Dziga Vertov's Kino-Pravda (Russian for "cinema of truth"), a documentary series of the 1920s. While Vertov's announced intention in coining the word was to use film as a means of getting at "hidden" truth, largely through juxtapositions of images, the French term refers more to a technique influenced by Vertov than to his specific intentions.

Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922) is also seen as an ancestor to cinéma vérité, in that it was a partially scripted film that used the techniques of documentary filmmaking.

The movement began in earnest in France in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s. The aesthetic of cinéma vérité was essentially the same as that of the mid-1950s "free cinema" in the UK and "Direct Cinema" in the US. Confusingly, in France and Québec it is usually called "cinéma direct".

There are however subtle yet important differences between these movements. Direct Cinema is largely concerned with the recording of events in which the subject and audience become unaware of the camera's presence. Essentially what is now called a "fly on the wall" documentary. It was felt this was the best way to reveal the truth of the moment being recorded. There is, however, a paradox created by drawing attention away from the reality of the camera and simultaneously declaring the discovery of a cinematic truth. Cinéma vérité is concerned primarily with revealing truth but incorporated various techniques, such as the filmmakers direct participation and intervention, that in essence reveal the filmmaking process. This is a much more fluid approach to making films and attempted to deal with the inherent contradictions of making documentaries and recording the "truth".

The movement was fueled as much by technological as artistic developments. During World War II, cameras had become small enough to be portable and unobtrusive. Even more important, cameras were now quiet so that natural sound could be recorded at the same time as filming.

Feminist documentary films of the 1970s often used cinéma-vérité techniques but very soon this sort of 'realism' was criticized for its deceptive pseudo-natural construction of reality. In 1979 Michelle Citron released Daughter Rite, a feminist pseudo-documentary which deconstructs the conventions of cinéma vérité.

In principle, the film movement Dogme 95 features similar tenets, but in practice most Dogme 95 films show far more indications of the scripting and direction than is typical for cinéma vérité.

Filmmakers associated with cinéma vérité, free cinema or Direct Cinema

John Cassavetes
Richard Leacock
Michel Brault and Gilles Groulx (Les Raquetteurs, 1958)
Robert Drew
Jean Rouch
D.A. Pennebaker
The Maysles Brothers (Albert and David Maysles)
Frederick Wiseman
Barbara Kopple
Scott Shaw

Select cinéma vérité films

Primary (1960)
Chronique d'un été (1961)
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)
The Battle of Algiers (1965)
Dont Look Back (1967)
High School (1969)
Salesman (1969)
Hospital (1970)
Cocksucker Blues (1972)
West 47th Street (2003)
À Hauteur d'homme (2003)
C'était un rendez-vous (1976)

The techniques (if not always the spirit) of cinéma vérite can also be seen in such films as The Blair Witch Project and Fucking Åmål, as well as mockumentaries such as A Hard Day's Night and This Is Spinal Tap.

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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