FT3WC-World Cinema: Presenting and Representing Reality

Module Provider: Film, Theatre and TV
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2016/7

Module Convenor: Prof Lucia Nagib

Email: l.nagib@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:
According to Thomas Elsaesser, ‘European art/auteur cinema (and by extension, world cinema) has always defined itself against Hollywood on the basis of its greater realism’. The module will take this assumption as a starting point to investigate whether some films can effectively be more realist than others. Rather than opposing European and world cinema to Hollywood, it will identify the kinds of realist (or anti-realist) procedures that can be associated with different cinemas of the world. Creative peaks, leading to the formation of so-called ‘new waves’ and ‘new cinemas’, will be viewed through the drive to engage with the physical reality on the part of crews and casts, resulting in a presentational mode of address that preserves the contingent and unpredictable event in their narrative mesh. In contrast, narrative films eliciting what is normally termed an ‘impression of reality’ tend to resort to a representational mode of address that irons out the unpredictable event in order to preserve the verisimilitude of the fable. A variety of case studies from different periods and places will enlighten students on these two basic presentational and representational modes, as well as on a number of related concepts and topics, such as indexicality, perceptual realism, reality effect, the reality of the medium, realist schools and movements, and documentary practices.

• To expose students to the main theories and concepts relating to realism in world cinema;
• To develop students’ understanding of presentational and representational modes of address;
• To identify a particular tendency on the part of crews and cast to engage with physical reality in so-called ‘new waves’ and ‘new cinemas’;
• To relate narrative procedures in cinema to different kinds of realism;
• To develop students’ ability to locate, analyse and inter-relate realistic procedures in films in general;
• To develop students’ critical and analytical skills in dealing with the concepts of indexicality, perceptual realism, reality effect and the reality of the medium;
• To develop students’ knowledge of realist schools and movements, as well as of different documentary practices.

Assessable learning outcomes:
On completion of this module students should be able to:
• Demonstrate solid knowledge of different theories of realism as applied to world cinema;
• Understand and apply concepts relating to presentational and representational modes of address in cinema;
• Analyse ‘new-wave’ and ‘new-cinema’ films in light of their engagement with physical reality;
• Articulate and apply concepts such as indexicality, perceptual realism, reality effect and the reality of the medium;
• Demonstrate familiarity with a number of realist schools and movements, as well as with different documentary practices.

Additional outcomes:
The module will serve as a useful complement to all other modules taught in the undergraduate course. It will provide students with critical, analytical and interpretative skills and tools to deal with a variety of films and cultural traditions, in light of their realist features. It will provide them with an overarching vision of cinema’s engagement with phenomenological and fictional reality. And it will expose them to original and cutting-edge theories in world-cinema research field.

Outline content:
The module will investigate realist procedures across a number of world cinemas. This will give students the opportunity to become acquainted with key concepts pertaining to cinematic realism. As a recording medium, film entertains an unmediated (or ‘ontological’ or ‘indexical’) relation with objective reality, as opposed to other mimetic or representational arts (Kracauer, Bazin, Wollen, Cavell). On the perceptual level, it also benefits from a surplus of resemblance with the phenomenological world because of its unique combination of movement and time, which feeds into narratives that elicit an ‘impression of reality’ (Metz, Baudry). Film can moreover affect spectators through a ‘reality effect’ by means of graphic representations able to cause physical and emotional impact even when resulting from animation or computer-generated images and sound (Black, Elsaesser). Film practices are often deemed ‘realist’ when they operate on the confluence between cinema and news media with which they share their immediacy and direct access to the real. Film currents and movements, in their turn, have often resorted to realism as style, in order to reveal concealed or unknown political, social, psychological or mystical dimensions of reality, such as French poetic realism in the 1930s, Italian neorealism in the 1940s and the various cycles of new waves and new cinemas in the world. Finally, in the realm of genre, realism is certainly the issue at stake when it comes to documentary-making, including the ethical implications of dealing with, manipulating and representing reality (Nichols, Sobchack, Williams). By surveying the current state of the realist issue in theory and practice, this module intends to address as many of these layers as possible, including hitherto little explored perspectives, such as the ways in which cinematic scale effects a sense of the real and the unreal (Doane) and film as the production of reality (Nagib).

Examples of possible case studies:
1. Physical Cinema
Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2001)
Tape (Ning Li, 2010)
2. Between narrative realism and the index
Central Station (Walter Salles, 1998)
Alice in the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)
3. Reenactment and Reconstruction
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer e.al., 2012)
Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955)
4. Real Sex on Screen
The Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima, 1996)
God’s Comedy (João César Monteiro,1995)
5. The Reality of the Medium
Entranced Earth (Terra em transe, Glauber Rocha, 1967)
I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba, Mikail Kalatozov, 1964)
6. The Production of Reality
Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (Kazuo Hara, 1974)
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches on (Kazuo Hara, 1987)
7. The Slum Film
City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002)
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)
8. Threatened Landscapes
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014)
9. The Intermedial Real
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959)

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
Within the two-hour class, a range of teaching styles will be used and may vary from week to week. Where appropriate, lectures will be used to establish contexts and introduce issues for discussion and debate. The dominant teaching form will be the seminar, which will concentrate primarily on close analysis of films, including film clips and powerpoint slides, and discussion of critical approaches. Seminars will require preparation in the form of weekly screenings and specified critical reading. Short, non-assessed presentations by groups of students will be made in response to pre-set questions.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 18
Tutorials 20
External visits 10
Guided independent study 152
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Other information on summative assessment:
Students submit two assignments, one in the Autumn term and one in the Spring term, amounting to a total of 6,000 words or equivalent.

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Resubmission of failed coursework.

    Last updated: 7 September 2016

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