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It is undeniable that the aesthetical choices which directors make within
their films, whether it is through cinematography, mise-en-scène or editing, often channel
messages surrounding the contexts in which films were made or of which they are
the subject of. Films made during times of great political, economic or social
struggle are often of high importance when taken into the account the potential
influence they can have on shaping the attitudes and culture of those viewing
them. Early 20th century Soviet filmmakers were an important part of
instigating revolution, and the establishment of a communist state in Russia;
through deep theoretical knowledge and the new concept of montage editing,
their films were effective propaganda to feed the Russian population. Likewise, cinema was the most effective method of gaining
influence at the time due to its easy distribution and ability to be accessed
and understood by the large percentage of the population that were illiterate.
Brutal Realism achieved through a film’s aesthetics’ can evoke visceral
responses from a viewer, and also bring to attention current issues. While the media has often been criticised for its lack
of, or negative/ unfair representation of asylum-seekers and refugees,
films such as Mediterranea (Italy, Carpignano, 2015) do not hold back with
chaotic handheld camerawork, fast paced editing and low key lighting to grab an
audience and let them see and experience what many migrants have to go through
to reach their destinations in such a way that draws attention to the severity
of the subject.Eisenstein’s Strike (1925, Russia) is a prime example of a film where
cinematography and editing are used to create metaphors for ongoing events in
the film’s political context; it is composed to reinforce a communist agenda
upon the audience and in many ways, the film was propaganda. Eisenstein built
on the work of Russian theorists like Kuleshov and Vertov, focusing in particular on ‘the Kuleshov Effect’; how
combining different shots together will make viewers derive more meaning, over
just long single takes which had dominated the composition of early 20th
century cinema. Using these theories, he developed his ‘dialectical
montage’ editing, which I feel strongly mirrors the Marxist Dialectic as
both regard the collision of thesis and antithesis to form a synthesis; (shot A + shot B = shot C) and (Labour + Capital =
Revolution.) A key scene in Strike is the finale sequence where the
labourers are massacred by the Russian military/ police under orders from the
government. The shot composition in this scene makes use of depth; long shots
of the military advancing and labourers fleeing have their background, middle
ground and foreground filled with characters, emphasizing the magnitude of the
event and how chaotic and distressing it is for the viewer, it begins to build
empathy for the labourers as they are helplessly killed.Likewise, Eisenstein’s cross-cutting between the killing of the labourers
and the slaughter of livestock (graphic and un-censored,) serves as a metaphor
for the political context at the film’s time; the bourgeoisie’s attitude/
treatment of the labourers. The brutality displayed by the military is further
shown through close ups of the labourers hands held up showing they are
unarmed, yet the violence continues. The shock value of
this scene very much forces the audience to identify with the workers,
and against the authority; the film achieves its purpose to reinforce communist
ideology effectively. Although the alignment you as a viewer are supposed to
have is made clear, it could be argued that the ruthlessness, machine-like
function and power that the military and government are shown as having,
coupled with the fact that the strike of the workers ended in them and their
families’ deaths, could discourage any thoughts of resistance against the
authority. However, noted that this film was made after the October revolution
in 1917 (after Russia had become a communist state,) its message is more likely
“don’t let history re-write itself,” reinforcing a communist society as the
ideal.The scene ends on a long shot of the slaughtered workers which dissolves
into a second shot of the marching military’s feet, the use of a dissolve
transition makes it appear as though the soldiers are literally marching over
the dead bodies; this display of disrespect and animosity coupled with the
limited shot only showing identical boots marching presents the military almost
as a ‘faceless figure’ or ‘authority.’ Eisenstein ends the final scene and film
with a simple title “DEFEAT,” this feels anti-climactic and juxtaposes the
action occurring previous, and it does not seem to offer any resolution like
the classical Hollywood Narrative (which was also
being pioneered at the time) would. This could then lead you on to
question the idea of “Americanitis” as the film does not follow many
cinema tropes or clichés (other than a short film-noir style chase scene which
is reminiscent of many detective films.) The visual elements in this scene
which build it up so high are cut off abruptly, which offers no new equilibrium;
we are left in a society where the capitalist government still rule strictly
over the lower class. This is not at all like the typical classical narrative
structure, but could be purposeful as if to suggest that action is needed; the
exact kind of influence that could encourage a revolution.Another of Eisenstein’s works which greatly links to early 20th
century Soviet history and politics, (and very similar to Strike) is Battleship Potemkin
(1925, Russia.) The ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence of the film shares a similar
message to that of the massacre scene in Strike,
and is an example of how Eisenstein used his theory of dialectical editing by combining/ colliding shots to
generate reactions and create an ideological standpoint in the film. After
establishing the geography of the scene with some long shots that show clearly
the soldiers marching down on fleeing civilians, the editing picks up pace and
we see short sections of montage focusing on individuals among the crowd; for
instance we see the soldiers fire in one shot, a child fall in another and then
the mother’s reaction in a third. The flow of camerawork movement down the
stairs is suddenly disrupted when the 180 and 30 degree rule are broken, as we
cut to the mother holding her dead child up to the soldiers, this possibly
inspires hope in a non-violent solution or mercy but the continuation of the
soldiers is inevitable, and the editing becomes faster-paced again as they
carry on killing. The scene mirrors the massacre in Strike by building empathy for the citizens and vilifying the
military to suggest alignment and identity with the workers to the audience.A modern example of a film with strong ties to
political and economic context is Mediterranea, which employs realism to direct
attention to current issues. The use of handheld camerawork throughout the film
almost gives it documentary-like features or
perhaps a sense of voyeurism especially in some of the more dramatic scenes.
This more ‘personal’ viewing builds strong emotional ties to characters
(migrants from Burkina Faso struggling to travel to and find work in Italy,) which
the audience would not normally be able to identify with, and gives them
insight into the reality of the crisis as a pose to news coverage.The scene in which Ayiva (portrayed by Koudous
Seihon) is told he will no longer have employment and therefore a residence
permit, uses low key lighting with only hard small beams moving around the dilapidated
flat as car beams drive past. This combined with the dynamic handheld
camerawork and varying speed in editing very effectively communicates and
reflects Ayiva’s feelings of hopelessness and defeat. You could argue that the
stronger emotional ties that are made between character and viewer through the
cinematic elements of this film make the audience more empathetic and aware of
the issues of racism, violence and corruption that have arisen out of recent
migrant crisis, which are themes throughout the film. This kind of a reaction
from an audience is what Jonas Carpignano (director) would favour; he aimed to
make the film brutally realistic and emotive by having actors who had actually
lived through the struggles seen in the film. The
film is 90% based on events that actually happened to the lead actor Koudous
Seihon.

There
are countless film techniques that can manipulate how an audience experience
and see a narrative; who they identify with and what they take away from the
film. Early Soviet cinema uses cinematic techniques like Eisenstein’s dialectic
editing as well as clever shot composition that makes use of varying depth for
dramatic effect which influences audience’s alignments in the film while
influencing them with socialist ideals in real life. The relationship between
Russia’s politics and its early film style is very much expressed through the
metaphors laid out in the films; cross cut editing of the slaughter of
livestock and workers being shot is an example of a metaphor for the bourgeoisie
and government’s treatment of the lower working class. While you could argue
that early Soviet films are outdated and less than implicit with their
underlying messages by today’s standards, Mediterranea
is a modern example of where political and social messages are explicit in a
film through camerawork in particular, as well as the emotive performance from
lead actors Koudous Seihon and Alassane Sy, I think it mainly uses strong
emotion to depict migrant’s lives brutality and draw attention to the hardships
they face which are not documented in mainstream media. The main stimulus that
seems to form the link between a film’s visual aesthetics and any political,
economic and social contexts is influence. Filmmaker’s will use cinematic
techniques to shape how audiences feel about issues brought up in the film.

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