FTMWCR-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:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Prof Lucia Nagib

Email: l.nagib@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

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:

individual staff, a caveat is required ‘the staffing of modules is correct at the time of writing/publication’):

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)

Global context:

This module displays an outspoken international and transnational outlook, revolving as it does around issues pertaining to world cinema and innovative approaches to it.

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 offering historical and theoretical context for the films in question, including analysis of selected film clips and presentation of powerpoint slides. Seminars will require preparation in the form of weekly viewings and specified critical reading. Short, non-assessed presentations by groups of students will be made in response to pre-set questions. Attendance to external screenings and/or excursions to film festivals and the like are bound to take place, in which case these are announced before the start of the course and cost implications clearly laid out for the students to plan their budget in advance.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 18
External visits 10
Guided independent study: 172
Total hours by term 200
Total hours for module

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Students submit two assignments, one in the Spring term and one in the Summer term, amounting to a total of 6,000 words or equivalent.

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:
Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/exams/student/exa-guidePG.aspx

Assessment requirements for a pass:


Reassessment arrangements:

Re-submission of failed coursework.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):




Required text books


Specialist equipment or materials


Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear


Printing and binding


Computers and devices with a particular specification


Travel, accommodation and subsistence


Last updated: 21 May 2019


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