I spent some time over the winter watching Mark Cousins's mini-series, The Story of Film. While there's a great deal in that series to admire, there's also something about it that really rubbed me the wrong way: Cousins' privileges "classical" film, which is almost purely formalistic, over "romantic" film, which is more often conceived as entertainment. Cousins calls "romantic" filmmaking a "bauble," which seriously slants everything he presents. There's an unexamined assumption in this dichotomy that "classical" filmmaking is more "realistic" and truthful than "romantic" filmmaking, that the urge to entertain is somehow antithetical to truth, which is the core of art. This explains a lot about the landscape of film these days. "Classical" and "romantic" have become almost politicized. I was thinking about all of this as I walked to my car after seeing The Stranger by The Lake (2013, directed by Alain Guiraudie), which is a film that occupies the formalist "classical" camp. It's one of those European films that eschews quick cuts and a musical score and focuses on transgressive behavior. The only problem I have with it is that I didn't believe the film's central narrative. It's all well and good to confine your action to a single location, to keep non-diegetic music off the soundtrack, to look at the stickier facts of the physicality of human beings, but all of that is for naught if you fail to provide human beings that seem credible. This is the fallacy of pure formalism. The form doesn't always trump the content. "Realism" doesn't always mean real.
Note: spoilers abound here.