Cinéma vérité  

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"I believe cinema verité set back documentary filmmaking twenty or thirty years. It sees documentary as a sub-species of journalism ... There's no reason why documentaries can't be as personal as fiction filmmaking and bear the imprint of those who made them. Truth isn't guaranteed by style or expression. It isn't guaranteed by anything." --Errol Morris cited in “Jargons of Authenticity (Three American Moments)” by Paul Arthur, Theorizing Documentary (1993) by Michael Renov


"This film was not played by actors, but lived by men and women who have given a few moments of their lives to a new experience of cinéma-vérité." --incipit Chronique d'un été (1961), voice over by Jean Rouch


"The direct cinema documentarist took his camera to a situation of tension and waited hopefully for a crisis; the Rouch version of cinéma vérité tried to precipitate one. The direct cinema artist aspired to invisibility; the Rouch cinéma vérité artist was often an avowed participant. The direct cinema artist played the role of uninvolved bystander; the cinéma vérité artist espoused that of provocateur. Direct cinema found its truth in events available to the camera. Cinéma vérité was committed to a paradox: the artificial circumstances could bring hidden truth to the surface.”--Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film London: Oxford, 1974), 229-262

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Cinéma vérité ('cinema truth') is a style of documentary filmmaking, invented by Jean Rouch, inspired by Dziga Vertov's theory about Kino-Pravda. It combines improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.

It is sometimes called observational cinema, if understood as pure direct cinema: mainly without a narrator's voice-over. There are subtle, yet important, differences among terms expressing similar concepts. Direct Cinema is largely concerned with the recording of events in which the subject and audience become unaware of the camera's presence: operating within what Bill Nichols, an American historian and theoretician of documentary film, calls the "observational mode", a fly on the wall. Many therefore see a paradox in drawing attention away from the presence of the camera and simultaneously interfering in the reality it registers when attempting to discover a cinematic truth.

Cinéma vérité can involve stylized set-ups and the interaction between the filmmaker and the subject, even to the point of provocation. Some argue that the obvious presence of the filmmaker and camera was seen by most cinéma vérité filmmakers as the best way to reveal the truth in cinema. The camera is always acknowledged, for it performs the raw act of filming real objects, people, and events in a confrontational way. The filmmaker's intention was to represent the truth in what he or she was seeing as objectively as possible, freeing people from any deceptions in how those aspects of life were formerly presented to them. From this perspective, the filmmaker should be the catalyst of a situation. Few agree on the meanings of these terms, even the filmmakers whose films are being described.

Pierre Perrault sets situations up and then films them, for example in Pour la suite du monde (1963) where he asked old people to fish for whale. The result is not a documentary about whale fishing; it is about memory and lineage. In this sense cinéma vérité is concerned with anthropological cinema, and with the social and political implications of what is captured on film. How a filmmaker shoots a film, what is being filmed, what to do with what was filmed, and how that film will be presented to an audience, all were very important for filmmakers of the time.

In all cases, the ethical and aesthetic analysis of documentary form (see docufiction) of the 1950s and 1960s has to be linked with a critical look at post-war propaganda analysis. The best way to describe this type of cinema is probably to say that it is concerned with notions of truth and reality in film. Also feminist documentary films of the 1970s often used cinéma-vérité techniques. Soon this sort of 'realism' was criticized for its deceptive pseudo-natural construction of reality.

As Edgar Morin wrote: "There are two ways to conceive of the cinema of the Real: the first is to pretend that you can present reality to be seen; the second is to pose the problem of reality. In the same way, there were two ways to conceive cinéma vérité. The first was to pretend that you brought truth. The second was to pose the problem of truth."

Select cinéma-vérité films

The techniques (if not always the spirit) of cinéma vérité can also be seen in fiction films such as The Battle of Algiers, The Blair Witch Project, Children of Men, Jimmy and Judy, Rachel Getting Married, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, District 9, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, Battle: Los Angeles, REC, Saving Private Ryan, The Bourne Ultimatum (film), and Paranormal Activity, among others.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cinéma vérité" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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