WHAT it is…

A film movement that took shape in the USA during the 2000s featuring films made independently of studio influence, using non-professional actors who are close friends of the filmmakers, and with extremely small budgets. Although the filmmakers themselves are reluctant to associate themselves with the term, the aesthetic and thematic link between the films seems to justify the coinage.

WHO its pioneers were...

Films associated with Mumblecore draw heavily from the previous independent film waves that flourished in America, specifically the unhinged, free-spirited films of John Cassavetes. They have also been collectively characterised as the resurrection of slacker generation films of the previous decade, though Mumblecore characters are hardly counterculture figures. Spearheads of the movement include Andrew Bujalski, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers.

HOW it is characterised…

Objectives

Mumblecore films are noted (and regularly criticised) for their small scale concerns and unambitious themes. Many of these films deal with relationship problems of young, white middle class men and women. These films, in a way, wish to capture the way relatively privileged youth communicate with each other or fail to do so. In the uncertain world of Mumblecore films, commitment to a cause or a person becomes a Herculean challenge, as it is in our markedly noncommittal era.

Style

Mumblecore narratives are heavily improvised, with emphasis on extremely intricate, naturalistic performances that draw from the real life of the actors who play them. They are shot with a handheld camera — often digital, owing to financial constraints — in real locations in synchronised sound. They also exhibit a keen ear to verbal nuances and mine rich details from the mundane gestures of everyday life.

WHY it is important...

One of the few recognisable and ongoing film movements, Mumblecore has been praised and panned in equal measure. It has been called lazy and insular by critics who feel its self-styled modesty to be too slight and as honest and astute by those who see emotional honesty and sociological astuteness in these apparently dishevelled productions. It has also been characterised as a resurrection of American independent cinema.

WHERE to find it...

Andrew Bujalski’s Beeswax (2008) centres on a pair of twin sisters, whose characters are inspired by the real life twins who play them, trying to negotiate professional and personal dilemmas. Bujalski’s seemingly modest exploration of various kinds of social contracts is a very attentive, slice-of-life portrayal about the tenuous and fragile nature of relationships.