10.12.2017

European
Cinema

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By Aarti
Menon

 

Introduction.

If cinema has a social function, it’s really to make people confront
other systems of thought, or other systems of living than the ones they
habitually know.  –
Jacques Rivette 

I would like to begin with an Introduction about European
Cinema and various aspects that lie under this huge Industry. European Cinema
is the identity of Europe itself which includes diverse and divergent cultures.
We mainly cover the two basic questions about how the world sees European
Cinema and how the European Union sees European Cinema “European culture is ‘a patchwork, a
juxtaposition of various conceptions and practices of entertainment, a
collection of individual ways of singing, dancing, telling stories, practicing
sport and having some rest’, while, on the other ‘economically and
politically, Europe is already a reality” 1. Defining European
Cinema is too vast a topic, as Cinema in itself cannot be narrowed down to a
single definition. With leading and upcoming Cinemas all around the world it is
only when the European Cinema is constantly compared with Hollywood that we can
see a striking distinction between the two. 
That is when we understand the definition of European Films in a true
sense. “As the ‘good’ other, it is a self-ascription, where European directors
and national cinemas are lined up in binary pairs, such as ‘art versus
commerce’, ‘auteur versus star’, ‘critical prestige versus box office’,
‘realism versus dream factory’ or – more recently – ‘the movement image versus
the time image’ (Deleuze 1986; 1989)”2. One unique
distinction of European cinema is the concept of Auteur that has really defined
European Cinema, it is through this that we saw a huge change and the beginning
of the New Waves emerging. The concept of Auteur is where the director is in
charge. It is more like a one-man army as the Director takes charge of writing
the story, direction, screenplay and all the aspects that go into film-making.  We see the director’s vision in the film. These
were small budget films but were critically acclaimed films that are spoken
about even today. Some e.g. of these are Breathless
by Jean Luc Gordad and 400 Blows by Francois
Truffaut, we also have the Italian neorealism where films were made on subjects
more in connection with the working class such as poverty, exploitation many of
the films today are influenced a lot by Italian Neorealism, in the early 19th
century we had The German Expressionism that lead to a series of creative
movements before the first world war some of the well-known films are:- The Student of Prague (1913), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), From Morn to Midnight (1920), The Golem: How He Came into the World(1920),
Destiny (1922), Nosferatu (1922), Phantom (1922),
Schatten (1923), and The Last Laugh (1924) were highly symbolic
and stylized. European Cinema is majorly looked as Art Cinema or literary
Cinema films that are intense and subjected to various interpretations. It has
mostly been a struggle to find the right audience for such fine produced films.

 

 

Most of the films
are “Postcolonial Cinema” speaking about Europe’s rich history taking influence
from sociopolitical issues and mainly cultural heritage. Majority of genres
that distinguish contemporary cinema including comedy, romance, costume dramas, thrillers, and
science fiction, for example were seen first in Europe in the early twentieth
century as well as today’s camera techniques and special effects can be found
under the work of renowned Directors such as Georges Méliès ” Consequently,
both the narration and aesthetics of the so-called ‘postcolonial cinema’ deal
with the waves of migrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia moving into the
European Union, with inclusion, exclusion and pluri-ethnicity as well as with
modalities of representation and politics of encounter. Therefore, the
contributions reflect three main key aspects – Europe, postcolonialism and
cinema – which are not separated terms but intertwined and connected with one
another in multiple ways, inflecting and generating a plurality of nuances” 3
Postcolonial cinema also brings into light the geographical aspect of cinema
specially issues such as, migration, identity and spatiality. The inputs of
geographical focus help in understanding how these films work and also how they
are built socially and ideologically in portraying different geographical
related aspects of film-making specially in relation to Europe as it has not
only brought out the Art in cinema, but also adapted various other cultures and
incorporated in their cinema. This also shows European Cinema in a new
subjective perspective and all the methodologies that go into bringing the
uniqueness or distinguish Europe from the rest as an aesthetic and political
medium in a globalized world.

There has always
been a constant debate over the fact of not being able to find the “Europeanness”
in European cinema due the dominance or influence of Hollywood, as spoken
earlier Europe has always found it mostly difficult to find the right kind of
audience for its cinema and in addition to it most of the films are small
budget films with very few renowned actors as a result only a few of the films
are funded  or supported by the
government and the rest are funded privately which makes it difficult to bring
such kind of cinema to the notice of the audience and today most of the
directors are under constant pressure to produce commercially successful films
or films that appeal to todays masses such as linear narratives leading to a
closed conclusion, fast cutting and action, a highly developed star system, ambitious
and sophisticated special effects. If they followed this method of
film-making it would always lead to the question of identity as what would
define European Cinema if they followed the Hollywood way of film-making?
Attempting to follow the lines of Hollywood would not be a solution to bring Europe
into the market as then there would be nothing to differentiate between the two
worlds of Cinema specially given the cultural and linguistic difference between
the two. But there is also the question of how to gather the audience of
European cinema and industry that produces, Art, complex and challenging films.
If Europe drifts towards producing high-budget, commercially successful films it
would lose its sense of identity as European Cinema as its culture is what
brings out Europe to the rest of the world. The evaluation for the success of a
film should not be based on much it earns, rather the content the response from
its audience is what should be evaluated. In my opinion in order to showcase
the European Art to the world it would be successful only when the government
also takes an initiative in supporting the field of Arts and Cinema by
supporting them financially as there is much more than what we just see in
Hollywood. There are also problems that usually arise because of the language
with English being predominantly spoken globally and whether the world today is
ready to accept cinema and storylines that are produced in regional languages
or is it more convenient to watch something in a language that is spoken
widely.  These underlying concerns must
be recognized and discussed but in spite of these problems are wide array of
challenging films are still being produced throughout Europe. In order to
promote and recognize European Cinema they have come up with the MEDIA (Mesures pour Encourager le Developpement de
l’industrie Audiovisuelle) programme, MEDIA is an initiative to help
develop closer co-operation amongst the European countries. Due to this
initiative the number of films distributed outside of Europe has increased and
many of the established and new directors have got financial support (to name a
few Terence Davies, Fridrik Thór Fridriksson, Damien Old, Istvan Szabo,
and Lars Von Trier). “Amongst recent European initiatives, Eurimages, the Council
of Europe’s fund for co-production (set up in 1988), has been almost
unique in prioritising film as ex- pression of cultural identity (Jäckel
2003: 76). Between 1989 and the early 1990s Eurimages supported a large
number of films whose cultural importance has
been widely recognised, including – for example – Reise der Hoffnung (Journey of Hope, Xavier Koller, 1990, Switzerland/ UK), Toto le héros (Toto the Hero, Jaco van Dor- mael, 1991, France/ Belgium/ Germany), and Trois couleurs: bleu (Three Colours: Blue, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993, France/ Poland/ Switzerland). By 1996, Eurimages’s
involvement in European film co-productions reached 46 per cent, and
the centrality of its role, particularly for countries with low production
capacity, is now widely acknowledged (Bizern and Autissier 1998: 70)”
4

 

In Europe,
France, Germany, Spain and Italy have been dominating the film Industry or
rather the works of these countries is what the audience has usually seen and
heard of but countries like Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, and
Switzerland, Iceland and the Scandinavian countries have been overshadowed by
their neighbors. These are the countries where internal linguistic differences
affect their market distribution in Europe as well as in other countries, there
are only a few exceptions such as (Delvaux and Straub in Belgium, Goretta
in Switzerland) that are known or heard of in Europe but are famous only
in their countries. Thus, the threat of Hollywood overpowering these countries
is high. However, these are the countries that always provide optimal locations
to direct films with their suitable climate and scenic backgrounds which are
preferred over other locations. Austria has been experiencing some changes in
their cinema the year 1999 being one of the most important years in Austrian
Cinema. Due to political issues and elections there were strong oppositions
against the new Government and while on the other hand they also did not want
their country to be not recognized internationally in relation to culture and
prevent films produced in Austria from being featured abroad. Situation changed
due to the Vienna Film Fund as it helps strengthen develop several of the Film
projects and helped in founding of a new production company called Coup 99 by Barbara Albert, Jessica
Hausner, and Antonin Svoboda along with photographer Martin Gschlacht. In
the year 1999 there were 222 film screenings of Austrian Films in International
Film Festivals and never had Austria received such huge recognition. The
Portugese Film industry too has experienced a positive change due to the Portuguese Institute of Cinematographic and
Audiovisual Art (IPACA) by strongly supporting its films strongly in
Portugal as well as abroad. As Portugal was named the Cultural capital of Europe
in 1994 as a result the IPACA financially supported four of six films that
year, three of which were selected for Cannes Film Festival. The French journal
Cahiers du Cinema dedicated an entire section to the Portuguese Film Industry.
One of the leading broadcasters in Portugal the SIC had launched an initiative
for the production of ten ‘Telefilms’ which was a very ambitious project and
the French ARTE project mentioned that due to this initiative it doubled the
numbers of feature films produced in Portugal and paved the way for many new
and upcoming talent in the field of Films. This project brought about a radical
change in Portugal. 

The Scandinavian
countries are still new in the European Film Industry in comparison to their
counterparts. The number of films produced inland and off-shore as seemingly
less compared to the other countries. Sweden has had the history of having the
most problems in this field as their markets are dominated mainly by American
Films and the audience in general hasn’t shown a keen interest in promoting
regional cinema. Sweden has had some success in Cinema with support from the Nordic
Film and Television Fund by increasing 50% of the Nordic Film Productions in
Sweden. Some of the notable Swedish Films are Lasse Hallström’s popular
Semi-Autobiography Mit Liv Som Hund (my
Life as a Dog, 1987), Kadisbellan (the Sling Shot, 1994), Daniel Bergman’s Söndagsbarn ( Sunday’s Children, 1993)
and the most famous films was a comedy film by Lasse Aberg Hälsoresan (The Health Farm, 1999) which garnered around one
million spectators in Sweden and was a great commercial success in Sweden
unfortunately the movie didn’t travel far internationally other than Norway
where again it was a success. The year 1999 was a successful year for Sweden in
relation to Cinema as they captured 21.5% of the market and two of the most
successful films that year were Tomtenär
far till alla Barnen (In bed With Santa, Kjell Sundwall,1999) and Vägen ut (breaking out, Daniel Lind
Lagerlof). In the year 2000 two Swedish Films were nominated at the Cannes
International Film Festival liv Ullmann’s drama about adultery, Trölosa
(Faithlesss) and an Autobiographical script of Ingmar Bergman directed by Roy
Andersson Sånger fran andra våningen (Songs from the Second Floor).  Due the basic problem of American Cinema
dominance the rest of Scandinavia Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland have yet
not been as successful as Sweden. Given that Language and Finance was the major
problems that these countries face it led to many co-operations so that their
Films could be funded and due to these International Co-operations one the keys
problems were that most of the films were required to be produced in English
and the point of promoting Regional Cinema internationally is to be able to Produce
it in the regional language as it is the main aspect that distinguishes
regional cinema from Hollywood. Which is still a topic of debate today. Two
famous Finnish Directors who are brothers Aki and Mika Kaurismäki have made
over twenty feature films that were low budget and nihilistic humour and self-conscious
filmic references that garnered a lot of attention from
the audience to Finnish Cinema.  One of
their most appreciated comedy more of a travelling comedy film based on the
sixties style Finnish pop group on tour to America that turned into a disaster
was Leningrad Cowboys go America (1989).  In terms of their films that were commercially
successful were films based on World War and some of the movies were Rukajärven tie (The Ambush, Olli Saarela)
where the audience was mainly the older generation as they were able to relive
the times during the war. Taru Mäkelä’s Pikku- sisar (Little Sister)
and Lauri Törhönen’s Hylätyt talot autiot pihat (Abandonned Houses)
are films that show from a woman’s perspective during the time of War and how
they deal with the situation at home. Such films are slowly bringing the
attention of the audience to the Finnish Film Industry. The Danish Film
Industry was successful due to the creation of the Danish Film Institute in
1972 with support from the state and strong Nordic and European Co-operation
that led to a breakthrough for Danish Cinema in the 90s. The Danish Cinema is
another example of European Cinema being in the spotlight due to strong State
support after France. The Danish Film Institute still continues to promote low
budget films that encourage, support and promote new-comers. Some of the
renowned Danish Directors are Lars von Trier, Billie August, Thomas Vinterberg,
Per Fly and Ake Sandgren. “The film Collective, Dogme 95, is known across
the world, and Kris- tian Levring’s The King is Alive, officially the fourth Dogme film, premièred at Cannes in 2000, as did Per Fly’s Baenken (The Bench) and Stefan Fjeldmark’s Hjaelp! Jeger en fisc (Help! I’m a Fish). Moreover, von Trier was awarded the Palme d’Or for Dancer in the Dark. As further indication of the international success of Danish films, Idioterne (The Idiots, Lars von Trier), was sold to 57 different countries, Soren-Kragh-Jackobsen’s Mifunes Sidste to 46 and Thomas
Winterberg’s Festen (The Celebration)
to 40.” 5  Another example set where they achieved
success internationally without being influenced or threatened by the dominance
of Hollywood. The initial Icelandic films or the first Icelandic Film Land Og Synir(Land and Sons) in the year
1979 received positive reviews. Although Iceland produces less films every year
but most of the films that they produce have been critically acclaimed and
internationally appreciated. The then President of Iceland Vigdis Finnbogadóttir
was quoted saying “in a world where film
has become a truly international language, no society can consider itself
properly articulate until it can express itself through this most
contemporary of media”.  Even though
in the 90s Iceland faced certain problems regarding the funds but due to the Icelandic
Film including Experimenting with Digital technology in films they were back in
the market. Some of the notable films produced are Hrafn Gunnlaugsson’s Myrkrahofdinginn (Witchcraft),
Gudny Halldórsdóttir’s Ungfrúin góda og
húsid (The Honour of the House) and Fridrik Thór Fridriksson’s Englar alheimsins (Angels of the Universe).
Many of the young Directors from Iceland are making a major shift in the
content they are producing it’s a huge shift from historical content to current
social issues. Which is currently a notable change or characterization of the
European Cinema. Poland too has a successful graph n the field of Cinema as it
has produced high quality films and has transformed its film structure units to
Independent Film studios. It established various sources for funding of films
both through state and private. Two of the films that gave tough competition to
American cinema in the year 2001 were Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword,
Jerzy Hoffmann) and Pan
Tedeusz, Andrzej Wajda based on Polish Literary classics. Together
the Scandinavian nations even though with less Financial support have come up
strong in the field of Films specially in an English language dominated Cinema
world they have stuck to their ideologies and produced some great work with
strong State support.  

 

With most of
European Cinema being regional cinema with the main aspect being that it is
produced in the regional language, it has always been a topic of discussion
about a film being authentic when the actors in the film are international actors.
With so many International co-operations now-a-days and amalgamation of the
entire cast and crew, where lies the identity of the culture of the film or
what defines the authenticity of it being regional? Do we categorize it as an
International Film just because the characters being played are by
international actors or does it still remain a regional film as it is being
produced in the regional language and showcases the culture of the specific
region? Having an International actor probably helps promote or market a film
internationally or gathers a lot of audience. Even today many of the regional actors
are not known due to which only a limited set of audience is keen in watching
these films “Moreover, vernacular stars ‘lack the dimension of the global reach
of Hollywood stars. Rather, they articulate specific regional concerns within a
strictly regional context, but by temporarily inserting themselves into the
realm of stardom that is usually reserved for stars with wider reach. further
and related aspect of this present form of regional or national European film
stardom appears to be that it is particularly marked by what has been referred
to as ‘cultural discount. In other words, most of these vernacular stars do not
‘travel’ well, since their appeal is neither pan-European nor global. Rather,
their popularity is nearly always limited to a single territory or, in
Schneider and Hediger’s formulation, a region” 6.  Years later after the second World war many of
the actors gained stardom due to the films being made on the recent historical
and political events that ha taken place in Europe, some of the noted actors
were: Louis de Funès, Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, Dirk Bogarde and Romy
Schneider to name a few. Reasons for such less popularity of regional Actors is
due to the language barrier within the continent also the financial support
they get is very less due to which it is difficult to promote regional talent
or upcoming talent globally. There is always a question whether to promote regional
cinema and regional talent individually for new-comers to get recognition or to
promote the cinema of the entire continent as one European cinema? 

 

As Cinema is too
vast a topic to narrow down to one single statement so is European Cinema which
is rich with its high culture and diversity making the cinema of Europe an
individual identity in itself. European Cinema has evolved from what is used to
be from literary stories to current societal issues, from regular cinema to the
concept of Auteur the beginning of contemporary cinema and the emergence of the
New Waves. It not only spreads the concept of transnationality across the globe
but also within the continent inculcating concepts beyond borders. Even with a
downward graph due to the dominance of Hollywood or American Cinema it has
still retained its originality managed bring forward Europe without being fully
influenced by the west. The distinct difference between European Cinema and
American Cinema is still very evident.  Though
the International Co-operations have been criticized but there was also a positive
side to it as it helped small time directors and actors get recognition.
European cinema will always be an ongoing process and there will be no end to
discovering the changes that take place in this industry as there is always new
developments taking place every day. In conclusion European Cinema will always
be a space of complexities and contradictions.

1
European identity in Cinema,
Introduction: European Film and the Quest for Identity,

2
The Europeanness
of European Cinema, Identity, Meaning, Globalization, edited by Mary
Harrod, et al., I.B.Tauris, 2014

3
Transnational Cinemas, Introduction:
genres and tropes in postcolonial cinema(s) in Europe

4
European identity in Cinema,
Introduction: European Film and the Quest for Identity,

5
European identity in Cinema, Introduction:
European Film and the Quest for Identity,

 

6
The Europeanness of European Cinema,
Identity, Meaning, Globalization, edited by Mary Harrod, et al., I.B.Tauris,
2014

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