Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980

By András Bálint Kovács | Go to book overview

8
Naturalist Styles

The appearance of a certain naturalism in film style was the most general phenomenon characterizing the transition to modern art cinema from the classical expressive style that dominated the 1940s and much of the 1950s. Most of the European “new cinemas” debuted to some extent with a return to the representation of real-life experience even if stylistically this did not mesh well with stylistic changes, like in the case of new British cinema at least until 1962. While the emergence of “new cinemas” can definitely be associated with a more realistic film form, modernism proper is not to be identified with this realism. Realism had a particular modernist form of its own.

Under this heading I will gather films using the style in which documentary, or to use the French terminology, cinéma vérité (direct cinema), is predominant. I prefer to use the term “naturalist” rather than “documentary” as it is more evocative of a style than a genre, and because I want to avoid discussing the problem of documentary and fiction. Naturalist film style reminds the viewer of real-life experiences, either by the characters' natural way of acting and talking or by giving the image the style of a documentary or newsreel (e.g., shaky handheld camera movements, wide-angle lenses, random panning around as if looking for a subject, characters communicating directly with the camera).

In modern cinema there were two sources of the naturalist style: socially committed neorealism and ethnographic documentary. The influences of the two sources followed a parallel development only in the first period of modern cinema. Italian modern directors of the early 1960s such as Olmi, Rosi, Bertolucci, and Pasolini started out of their own national heritage of naturalist style, socially committed neorealism. In Czechoslovakia Milos

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