I was having an avid dispute about film taste with my friends, a classic moment in my life that I’ve shared with several types of filmmakers or simply with cinephiles. The core of the argument was about what a film should do with its audience or when it ceases to be “good” or relevant. If some want to educate the viewers, others want to entertain or escape from the mundane and others want blunt realism with no hope of catharsis.
What I personally seek for in a film is its ability to generate honest emotions or at least fervent discussion. If someone is trying to convince me what a masterpiece a film is that I didn’t think highly of, I will eventually be impressed by how strongly it makes that someone feel. The fact itself that it arouses an argument is a sign of good filmmaking or at least that the director’s intention has gone through.
If you boil it down, most often the root of the disputes is between art and commerce and whether a filmmaker should make films for the audience or for him or herself. I believe the latter can be selfish if one writes or directs a film to demonstrate intellectual power without real interest in human depth, which is a waste of audience’s time. Some also believe that the more one writes about oneself, the more isolated and irrelevant one will become.
However, as a microcosm is as vast and deep as the outer cosmos, so is the world of the film author. The deeper one goes into oneself for writing material, the deeper one can reach others and in this case I welcome the “isolation”. Just look at all of Woody Allen’s work.
Another type of character segregation could be those belonging to the upper class pertaining issues which could be intangible or trivial for viewers of more modest means. I am not a fan of elitism or snobbery, but when the conflicts and emotions resonate on a human level, this kind of narrative transcends the barriers of privilege and status. Antionioni’s “Avventura” bored me senseless because I couldn’t care less about the characters’ inner struggles, but I did understand that no matter how little we had in common, they were just lost people who came to realize that their existence is shallow and empty. The fact that their emotions are born from a premise foreign to us, does not make the issues themselves less real. But then one could ask: “why would I care that the rich lead an empty life, while I’m struggling to pay my rent in a shabby apartment?” Why would the characters in Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger than Paradise” care? Although poor and messed-up, they are as lost and confused as the rich. The turmoil beneath the surface is inescapable regardless of social positions, and if a film can speak to its audience, it does its job. Granted more intellectuals would empathize with the Antonioni plot than and “loser” twenty-year-olds would with the Jarmusch situations, but deep down the same lonely core draws us to these stories. The difference is only the chosen context. If Tarkovski uses visual poetry, Mad Men uses the power of hindsight and shame, and if Romanian cinema uses long shots in which literally nothing is happening, blockbuster superhero movies wrap old myths in new clothing.
For me, the best kind of cinema isn’t found on the surface with no room left for discovery and introspection, but the one that stays with you for years. The one that is honest and is a tool of communication between hearts, not just minds. In that case the style in which the arrow hits its target does not matter. And by style I don’t mean just technically, but in regards to the story and delivery. The mood. The feeling that you’re not being lectured, but offered a heuristic experience. Cinema should create awe and never spoon-feed a message. It should disgust you, anger you, bore you senseless or make you cry in front of strangers. What it shouldn’t do is leave a blank space in your memory.