it happened one night

Celebrating The ‘Nothing’ Film

Within the film industry there is a particular type of film that I don’t think gets enough attention. The ‘Nothing’ film. It’s not even really a genre, it’s more of a subject focus. Either way there are several award-worthy, yet often forgotten movies that are seen as being about ‘Nothing.’ Audience-wise this is used in both a positive and negative sense. I’ve met a lot of people who believe these types of films are boring and don’t have enough in them, that they seem to go by without anything terribly interesting happening. Yet at the same time for pretty much the exact reason it’s a good thing, because instead of focusing so much on keeping the film overly-dramatic or with constant action, there is a focus on words and on people. It is a more poetic expression of real life. It’s also one of my favourite types of film. It seems as well that they are films that sort of throw-it-back to the early films of the 30s and 40s where the idea of film was still pretty fascinating, having only been around for 40 odd years and the existence of sound even less so. Within many of these films, often dealing with romance and with post-war mentalities, they displayed an attention purely on people and dialogue. Last night I watched the 1934 Frank Capra classic It Happened One Night, a film that while including some drama, puts all focus on the two main characters and their relationship. There are events that in many modern movies would be included purely to keep the audiences attention, that are actually just briefly mentioned, but skipped in order to get back to the people. That’s what makes it such a brilliant film for me and Capra often seemed to focus much of his career on these types of movies. Far from Capra and closer to more modern films Woody Allen and many directors and writers of modern day french cinema are great, truly great examples of the ‘Nothing’ film.

So lets take an example from one of these two, in fact lets go to one of my favourite movies by one of my favourite writers and directors: Annie Hall (Woody Allen). This film is an example really of the more popular ‘Nothing’ film. The story is about, when it comes down to it, a man and a woman who fall in love, remember other people they fell in love with and then have trouble in their relationship. Generally speaking there’s not much you can say, at least nowadays, to sell that as an idea. Except it is more than that, because through the way they speak, the way they present each situation, each previous relationship comes to a capra-esque conclusion that everything that happens in life is important. Each word within Annie Hall and in fact many of Allen’s movies is important, there is such a heavy focus on dialogue, and on being accurate to real life… but to an extent which is almost impossibly true. As if somehow he had been stalking us our entire lives and knew how to make us relate to every word and to the situations mentioned.

Now before I fall into the trap of only using one genre of film and wrongly suggesting that all ‘Nothing’ films have to be romances, lets move on to something a little different. The 2012 French drama Dans La Maison (In The House) by Francois Ozon. A truly fantastic movie in my opinion and one I cannot recommend enough. Dans La Maison stars Fabriche Luchini and Ernst Umhaeur as Germain (teacher) and Claude (student) who form a slightly odd friendship based around Claude’s intrusion into his friends house, documented through his creative writing. So this one, I’ll admit, for a ‘Nothing’ film has quite a lot of drama to it. But the fascination that Germain and Claude have toward reality, and life and how once written down can be the most enthralling thing known to man is exactly what the ‘Nothing’ film is all about. The film’s central focus is on an at-times questionable relationship between a student and teacher and their interest with…well… just with everyday life really, and how it can be recorded creatively. Again something that as a concept could have been risky and difficult to sell, but that actually worked really well and was critically acclaimed.

It is also impossible to talk about ‘Nothing’ films and not talk about Boyhood by Richard Linklater. Now I really enjoyed this film and the whole concept of filming with the same actors, and basically the same locations for over 12 years. That’s dedication. It’s also a much more creative look at the coming-of-age style of film-making, not just in creation, but in the fact that with each period we hear songs that historically define that era. More than that, we even skip quite large gaps in their life, which in some ways, is exactly how life works, it works in that staccato broken sort of way, we remember sections of our life. Boyhood feels exactly like that, as if I’ve switched on a movie, that takes me down memory lane without attempting to document every single second of every moment. It is one of the most quintessential ‘Nothing’ movies, yet as much as it was critically acclaimed, I can’t say much for it’s general popularity. It came, it sort-of-conquered and then it was gone. At least that’s how it seemed, it was as if for a second the world was in love with the concept, the film itself earned a pretty good amount of money, but then was completely forgotten. That’s what I find to be such a shame with so many ‘Nothing’ films, sometimes they are lucky enough to become rather popular but then they are not regarded in the same way that many other, in my opinion, subpar films are.

‘Nothing’ films, in my opinion, are films of passion. They strive to approach a film with a great, deep understanding of life, and are daring enough to include situations, or conversations that everyone has experienced but that so little are brave enough to keep in a film. Film and Books since their creation have often been used as a means of escapism from real life and maybe thats why sometimes they are not so popular. But just as fantasies, sci-fis, melodramatic romances and all these often great movies help us to escape from life, ‘Nothing’ films that are incredibly true to life allow us to remember the greatness and importance of the smaller things in life. Without getting too hippi-esque, gag-inducingly-cheesy on you, each step and conversation we have with someone is both the future, present and past. It is the something that some day will be a memory, that conversation that for some reason may pop up randomly for no apparent reason. It is the present, in the sense, it’s literally happening then and there. It is also the future, something that is happening, that 5-minutes-previous-you might not have expected, some 5-years-previous-you would have dreamed of and appreciated. Thinking in these terms makes life a lot more bearable and our minds a lot happier and ‘Nothing’ films help us to just briefly wake our minds up to the wonder of life. I guess in that sense the ‘Nothing’ film at its core is like an advanced naturalism. Naturalism is something that is continually contested and attacked, and now as much as I enjoy fantasy, let us not forget the importance of seeing life for what it is. Short but phenomenal. So any film you see the blurb for and are doubtful of because it sounds too boring, or might sound too simple, give it a chance! Keep the ‘Nothing’ film alive!

The quote of the week comes from punk singer, author and lecturer Greg Graffin:

“Naturalism teaches one of the most important things in this world. There is only this life, so live wonderfully and meaningfully.” – Greg Graffin

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