Film language today

Oleksandr Rachynskyi, Estonia

Self-expression through video content has become one of the main platforms for young people. If they are bloggers or streamers they just record themselves talking and in today’s society we are at a point when millions of opinions can be heard if only you wish to listen. Technology has made video equipment cheaper and distribution easier. Instant access.

This also affected young people today who want to express themselves artistically through filmmaking. Getting equipment and putting your work out into the world has never been easier. So, all it comes down to having something to say and knowing how to say it. To say something, one uses a language. In this case film language. What is film-language and how can knowledge in this field help people today reflect the reality that they live in?

First of all, even though there are some stables to film language vocabulary, there are aspects they change with time. They deal with «capturing reality». There are very precise words of Czeslaw Milos: “An artist is a seeker of reality.” It often happens like this: time changes, and directors who are at the mercy of a rigid language involuntarily begin to lie; cinema hides from them, leaks away, it does not work. These directors, being “masters of their craft”, still cannot find “reality”.

It happens that “reality” seems to move forward, reveals a sharp expansion of the artistic field. And it turns out that it is no longer possible to shoot in the way they shot before, you can’t put the light on like that, you can’t play like that, you can’t narrate like that.

Stories don’t get old. The ways of their presentation are becoming obsolete. What do Pasolini’s words “Neorealism without bicycles” mean? They say that “bicycles” have become a common place — a doxa. This is a reference to the neo-realistic masterpiece «Bicycle Thieves» and how many directors copied its style. Art does not get along where the doxa is, art is always paradoxical.

This does not mean that it is necessary to mechanically replace the “old” heroes with “new” ones, replace high-sounding speech with argot. The

“spirit of the time” does not nestle in recognizable “today’s” types and images, not in their argos. It huddles in forms and signs, in outlines that line

up in language, in style. Only language and style can become a mirror of the


What are the main elements of film language and how have they changed compared to the way they were expressed before?

In the early days of cinema, the actors had a theatrical approach to acting. They spoke in an artificial manner often even facing the camera all the time as if on the stage. Later on, starting with Italian Neo-realism after World War 2, the acting style took inspiration from documentaries and war chronicles. People acted more naturally; they were not always trying to use smart lines of dialogue. Their presence was more important than their acting. This later blossomed in the so called slow cinema movement with films by directors such as Tsai Ming-Liang, Lav Diaz, the Dardenne brothers etc. Even though each one of them has a very distinct style, what connects their films is a naturalistic approach of an actor’s presence. One could easily combine documentary footage, video diaries and staged scenes.

This strongly effected the process of casting. When one watches films by Lissandro Alonso, Albert Serra, Bela Tarr, an interesting thing can be noticed. Often, actors in these films don’t do anything dramatic, they just sit,

walk, eat, smoke, even sleep. And their faces become the «dramaturgy of presence», as Albert Serra called it. For these directors, it’s not about filming

someone famous or good looking or artistically expressive. No, the main point is their authenticity. This is why often non actors are used instead of actors – factory workers, villagers, homeless people etc. And instead of acting, they filmed in a documental environment, so the director builds the narrative not with actor interaction but with context and the Kuleshov effect.

The Kuleshov Effect is a film editing effect invented by Soviet filmmaker, Lev Kuleshov. It is a mental phenomenon where the audience derives more meaning from the interaction of two back-to-back shots than from one shot in isolation. For example, if you show a shot of someone eating soup, followed by a shot of someone looking sad, audiences would feel sorry for them because they associate the sadness with the soup they just ate. Or, if you show a face that has no specific expression, then show a dead child and then cut back to the same face you showed before, the audience will see this face as sad, even though taken separately that face does not express anything like that.

Montage is the art of combination. If you compare a montage with a story, then the frame can be equated to a word, a sentence, or even an entire

paragraph. You can compose short phrases, creating meanings, or you can enclose meanings in long frames. To create the flow of time, the clash of meanings, the rhythm of the narrative – that’s where the montage is revealed.

Camerawork has also changed with time. When cinema began the camera rarely moved, but nowadays it is possible to create any movement imaginable because cameras have become so mobile. The filming process became more intimate and imaginative, since now the way the camera acts reflect the inner world of the character and not just the forth wall.

Of course, these are only several tools and there are others, but I decided to focus on actors’ presence, editing (montage) and camerawork because these are the main storytelling tools for a young director trying to tell his/her story for the first time, and looking for a way to capture something less artificial. A young person wishing to tell his/her story nowadays doesn’t need professional actors if he or she understands how to cast the kind of faces that are authentic – in a sense that they are not glamorous but come from everyday life, and make them show emotions and inner conflict with montage and imaginative camerawork instead of making that person overact or act badly in general, since they are not professionals. Video editing programs are now easily available to everyone and filming can be done on a smartphone.

We are finally in an era that François Truffaut talked about in the sixties when he said: «It seems to me that the film of the future will be even more personal than a novel, intimate and autobiographical, like a confession or a diary. Young filmmakers will speak on their own behalf and tell about what happened to them: perhaps about their first or last love, about the path to understanding important political problems, about travel, illness, military service, marriage, about recent vacations. … The directors of the films of the

future will not be officials with a movie camera, but artists for whom shooting

is a magnificent and delightful adventure. The film of the future will be similar

to its author, and the number of viewers will be proportional to the number of

friends of the cinematographer. Films of the future will be shot under the sign of love».