Style Over Emotion

Stating what elements a film needs to be great is to give an entirely subjective opinion. Film is unquestionably an art form, and with the quality of art being a subjective consideration, the quality of a film rests for the most part up in the realm of opinion.

Everyone has a different definition of what makes a film great–making it a personal process. For some, the technical aspects are the predominant factors, for others it is the writing, or performance that determines whether a film is good, bad or great. And for many, like myself, it is the emotional impact a film leaves that is the defining factor in a film’s greatness.

Often, the most emotionally effective films are those that remain cemented in both our world and in the style of realism. It is often easier for an audience to connect when there is very little or no disconnect between what is happening on screen and the viewer. However, once a filmmaker begins to stylize a film, the emotional connection becomes harder to make. That is certainly not to say that all stylistic films are devoid of emotion, rather that it has to be a priority of the filmmaker to establish that emotional connection with the audience.

Filmmakers, like Zack Snyder and Wes Anderson whose films are obviously stylized, are often criticized for not giving any emotional weight to their films. This is most often due to the way their films are stylized.

For the most part the style a director decides to use will mean that the shots will be planned more than usual. Excessive storyboarding and meticulous set-up can leave a film feeling dry, even with an extreme stylistic flourish.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s extremely popular Amélie suffers greatly from this problem. To say the film is heavily stylized would be a great understatement, as it is an incredibly frenetic film. Its energy is refreshing but the film is ultimately disappointing. It is its lack of focus and over-stylized nature that leads to the film feeling cold.

Amélie lacks both grounding in reality and any deep focus into any of the characters’ minds and personalities. While Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep is a film that treads on very similar ground as Amélie, it shines while Amélie falls flat. Its success comes down to the emotional focus that Gondry put on his main character, making the audience able to relate even when reality goes out the window.

Having a very defined style doesn’t mean a film won’t be able to affect an audience emotionally, but it does mean that equal attention will have to be paid to that aspect of the film. It is something filmmakers seem to ignore when style overtakes emotional integrity. It can turn what could have so easily been a great film into a simply good film, something David Fincher is often guilty of.

To some, the visuals are the most important aspect of a film, but to those who care more or equally about the emotional impact, style over emotion is always a disappointment.

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3 Responses to Style Over Emotion

  1. RunningSiren says:

    Great topic. Going over my list of 56 films seen so far this year, the ones I remember the most as having a long-lasting impact are those that had the best writing and characters. The stories and characters that made me think long after leaving the theatre (= emotion) – some examples are Crazy Heart, The Last Station, The Ghost Writer, A Shine of Rainbows, Harry Brown, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, Inception, Buried and Never Let Me Go to name a few well-known films. However, to me the style is also important and can greatly contribute to my appreciation whether it be animation (How to Train Your Dragon) or action films like Avatar, Iron Man 2, The A Team, and RED. Style alone will not do the trick – and a good well-written story without some “style” from the filmmaker is bound not to keep my attention. The combination of the two is the magic “formula” that we rarely see, but recognize instantly.

  2. This is the reason I loved Gomorrah so much more than other, more popular, mob films. Great topic!

  3. filmgeek says:

    I like films that look good but, like you say, sometimes the story and/or performances suffer for it. I think Sofia Coppola and Michel Gondry are two filmmakers that manage to balance the elements

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