Most films tend to relate to reality on some sort of level as filmmakers use their own experiences in order to create a film that audiences will believe. The theory of Realism looks at how cinema and real life is connected or whether it is at all connected. One of the theorists that looks at Realism is Kracauer. He unlike a lot of theorists believes in Realism but he believes that technology such as cinema and photography help’s to not only show audiences reality but enables them to perceive a different level of reality that they may normally miss.
My Summer of Love is about two young girls Mona and Tasmin on the opposite sides of reality. Mona comes from a family of criminals and struggles with her brother, her only living relative, who has found religion. At the other end of the spectrum Tamsin is a mysterious young woman who has just been suspended from boarding school and has lost her sister through illness. Their friendship quickly turns into love and they explore what it means to be young and in love. Pawlikowski shows that not everything is what its perceived to be and how love can be beautiful but also cruel. This links to Kracauer’s theory as he believes audiences do not get to see the whole of reality and so by watching film’s we get to see areas we may not have seen normally. Though his ideas are useful when looking at Realism, it is important to remember that Kracauer is not the only theorist and other theorists such as Zavattini believe that cinema should portray real life in its natural state no matter how uninteresting it is.
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Realism started to come around in the 1930s. There tends to be two types of Realism: the first type of Realism looks towards characters and plot lines in particular looking at the verisimilitude of a film. On the other hand, film theorists such as Kracauer and Bazin looked beyond this and argued that it was in fact the film technology that was recreating reality. Kracauer even goes as far as to argue that ‘a film is realistic because it correctly reproduces that part of the real world to which it refers to,’ (Kracauer 1974: 299). This can be seen in films such as My Summer of Love that through the use of setting and characters they do create a realistic setting of Yorkshire linking to the idea that films explore a texture ‘of everyday life whose composition varies according to place, people and time,’ (Kracauer 1997:304). In some ways this is true as films do need to have elements of realism in order for audiences to believe them. However, even though cinema does reproduce real parts of the world it also creates fantasy and sci-fi that may not be part of this world. It also doesn’t have to include all three elements of people, place and time for a film to feel realistic, as long as there is elements of realism, audiences will believe it. Kracauer also believes that the technology of cinema helps the audience to see reality in a clearer light and give them views that they may not have had before, this is because ‘Film renders visible what we did not, or perhaps could not, see before it’s advent,’ (Kracauer 1997: 300). Essentially it gives an audience an opportunity to see into someone else’s life who may experience different situations due to class, ethnicity, time, period etc.
In the opening of My Summer of Love, rather than an establishing shot, we get an extreme close up of Mona drawing, this is unconventional for a typical Hollywood film but creates a relationship with the character early on as the audience feel as if they are intruding on a personal moment that Mona is having. It then follows with an extreme long shot pushing herself along on a motorbike that is broken. It presents her as resilient as even though her bike isn’t working, she is still able to move forward on it. Even though the audience does not know much about the characters, they begin to form opinions based on their own realities. For example, the fact the motorbike is broken represents that she has hardly any money which makes her feel more realistic. The first image of Tamsin is of her standing tall upon a horse with the sun lighting up her face as she looks down upon Mona. The image is a distorted long shot as Mona is looking up at her. This could represent how Mona feels about Tamsin as from the minute Mona sees Tamsin, she is in total awe of her. Tamsin is mysterious and nosey, asking several questions such as ‘did you crash?’ The use of camera angles particularly ensures the fact that the audience look up at Tamsin and makes them feel she has power over them and Mona.
Kracauer believed that ‘films could reflect the national psyche and they address and mobilize a mass audience, not through the explicit themes or discourses but through the implicit, the unconscious, the hidden, the unsaid desires.’ (Stam, 2000:78) This suggests that in essence audiences are fairly similar on an unconscious level, this is mostly true and Hollywood films tend to use this as an advantage to make a successful commercial film. This can be seen throughout My Summer of Love but particularly towards the end where you see a loss of hope for both Phil and Mona, something that most audiences will be able to relate to on any level. Through the use of close-ups, non-diegetic music, and blocking, the audiences see the desires and unconscious thoughts of characters, something we cannot see in real life. Emotions are not something the audience can see but can feel and it helps them to relate to the characters on the screen. In the scene just after Mona fakes her suicide, it is the final straw for her brother Phil. Throughout the film, we have seen him on a path of redemption; once a criminal now turned to God, and in contrast the audience now see him slap and kick his younger sister as a reaction to her faking her own death. In a close-up, the audience see the glimmer of hope go out of his eyes at the thought of not only losing his only relative, but that she could be so cruel towards him. When a close-up of a character is used, we see their hidden emotion that in a normal situation an audience would not see. This links back to Kracauer’s theory that the camera gives the audience an opportunity to see a reality they normally cannot perceive. One of the final scenes shown between Phil and Mona is as a medium shot as she walks through the house with her suitcase. The only word she mutters to him is ‘bye’ and he stares at her in disbelief and looks towards the door and then back at her in despair. In the two shots there is nowhere to hide for either character and the audiences hope for some kind of reaction but by Pawlikowski keeping it simple, with blocking, the audience are forced to feel as awkward as the characters feel. As the sound of the door shuts behind her, Phil just stares off into the distance. Since the camera does not follow Mona out of the door, it forces the audience to feel for Phil who is struggling, in contrast to if the camera had continued to follow Mona, we would have felt more empathy for her. As Pawlikowski decides what to show the audience and what not to show the audience, this forces the audience to feel a certain way.
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One theorist cannot explain the whole of a theory and so it is useful to use other theory in conjunction. In comparison to Kracauer, Zavattini believed that ‘the point was not to invent stories which resembled reality, but rather turn reality into a story,’ (Stam, 2000: 73) to some extent this is true, audiences do need to believe what they are seeing on the screen and so on some level they need to relate to it. Although My Summer of Love is not based on a true story it does contain elements of realism. The relationship between Mona and Tamsin is not only based on the chemistry of the two actresses but it will also most likely be an interpretation of the director’s, writer’s version of love. By the end of My Summer of Love, we see that how Tamsin and Mona have perceived their relationship has been extremely different to each other much like in real life. In the end scene, when the two of them finally end up by the lake where they first kissed, the truth is finally revealed. In contrast to the first time they were there, there was happiness, now there is just depression. The audience are likely to relate to Mona at this point as they are likely to have been in a relationship where they have fallen deeply in love and the other person has just thought it was a summer fling. Then as Tasmin claims to Mona, ‘you know me,’ the audience also feel like they have been betrayed as they have finally realized, she is not who she claims to be, as they Mona discovers that Tamsin’s sister is actually alive. In a close-up shot they both get into the water as they did the first time and stare into each other’s eyes. They share a passionate kiss until suddenly Mona grabs Tamsin’s neck in a close-up and starts to strangle her and then pushes her underwater trying to drown her. This moment could be argued against Zavattini’s view as he believes life to be boring and mundane, whereas this is full of tension and a desperate struggle. Suddenly Mona stops and as Tamsin yells ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ Mona leaves and walks away in a close-up which eventually pans out so that she walks out in a long shot. The fact that Mona is able to stop herself and walk away shows that for once in the film she has the balance of power, with the power shifting away from Tamsin who was the one in control from the beginning.
In conclusion, Kracauer believes that cinema helps to show audiences reality in a different way. It gives the audience a chance to perceive life from a different angle and as such gives the audience a different picture of life. Just like in My Summer of Love where at first Tamsin is perceived to be innocent, kind and in love with Mona, but by the end of the film the narrative has switched, and it turns out Tamsin has been lying all along. This contrast is much like life and until the audience can see more of the picture, they cannot truly see reality. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that how spectators perceive a film will be different depending on their backgrounds and culture. Therefore, the issue with any theorist is that theory is too big for just one person. Consequently, in order to understand a theory such as realism in its true extent, it is important to take note of different theorists. It is also crucial to remember that one theory does not cover the whole of cinema and so it is also important to contrast and compare one theory to another.
- Edwards, Timothy (2013) Realism, Really? A Closer Look at Theories of Realism in Cinema. Kino: The Western Undergraduate Journal of Film Studies 4 (1): 1-7
- Kracauer, Siegfried (1974) Theory of Film. London: Oxford: UP
- Stam, Robert (2000) Film Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
- Fiske, John (1983) Key Concepts in Communications. London: Methuen and Co.
- Pawlikowski, Pawel (2004) My Summer of Love
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