What it is…

A loosely connected group of films made in France during the early 1960s that worked on a radically different grammar of documentary filmmaking. Since it was practised worldwide in various forms, including in North America as Direct Cinema, it is difficult to definitely ascribe a specific geography to Cinema Vérité. More a style and less a clear-cut movement, the Vérité aesthetic has been employed by both fiction and non-fiction films.

Who its pioneers were...

The realist intentions of Cinema Vérité could be, of course, traced back to the Italian Neorealists' idea of capturing reality without any embellishment. The idea also harks back to Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov's notion of Kino-Pravda (“Film Truth”) to use cinema as a medium of truth. Noted French filmmakers who have worked with the Cinema Vérité style include Jean Rouch and Chris Marker.

Why it is important...

That Cinema Vérité ceased to be a film movement flourishing at a particular place and time and became a major shooting style itself is an indication of how pervasive and potent its ideas have been. Today, when the camera is nothing short of a weapon and the notion of cinematic authorship so strong, the vérité format seems the near-perfect choice for filmmakers who want to get to work with minimal impediments.

Where to find it...

Chris Marker's Le Joli Mai (1963) finds the veteran documentarian and his crew interviewing an eclectic assortment of residents and immigrants of Paris during the peacetime following the Algerian War. The questions range from the abstract to the concrete and effectively develop a sketch of the city straddling two tumultuous political eras.

How it is characterised…

Objectives

Much like Direct Cinema, Cinema Vérité wished to portray various facets of life in French towns and cities without logistical mediation. However, unlike its North American cousin, it was often partisan, its interests were regularly political and anthropological and it continually acknowledged the presence and role of the filmmaker and the camera in the whole enterprise.

Style

Although Vérité shares many technical traits with Direct Cinema such as the freewheeling, handheld camerawork and direct sound, it differs from it in its tendency to include voiceovers, interviews or narration as structural elements. These films are usually self-reflexive, in that they recognise that the involvement of the camera alters the reality it records and reveal the constructed nature of the narrative we are seeing.

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At WorkSeptember 24, 2010