Do Genres Really Exist In World Cinema?


A number of perennial doubts plague genre theory. Are genres really ‘out there’ in the world, or are they merely the constructions of analysts? Is there a finite taxonomy of genres or are they in principle infinite? Are genres timeless Platonic essences or ephemeral, time-bound entities? Are genres culture-bound or transcultural?…Should genre analysis be descriptive or proscriptive? — Stam, 2000

Do genre theories exist? Upon initial consideration, one may feel inclined to go strongly one way or another. Their existence seems validated by the wide variety of options we can search through by means of categorisation in order to find something that appeals to us, and utilise the genre in order to gauge a concept of the synopsis. One can enter a movie store (or perhaps more appropriately, their Netflix library) and see a finite taxonomy of old and new films neatly organised by genre to choose from. However, upon deliberation, one may begin to question their existence, pondering upon the genres of their recently watched or favourite films as reference. Stam’s rhetoric echoes in our reflections of films when we realise that they are not and cannot be bound to simple genres when we consider the variation of films and their cultural backgrounds, time specific references, commissioned creation or uniqueness in mode of storytelling. Is to confine them to a genre to stifle their position as a medium of artistic manifestation? Alain Renais 1959 ‘Hiroshima, Mon Amour’ is a film which both breaks the conventions of genre yet represents the fundamental elements of them through its existence as an experimentation within the French New Wave movement, making it a prime example of films which challenge the genre model. Through its exploration of political ideals, the human condition of memory and artistic expression, Hiroshima Mon Amour proposes both answers and questions to the genre theory.

Contemporary society is centred around globalisation breaking down borders and changing culture in society, which has subsequently had an impact on world cinema. It is with this and the political ideology of capitalism that film is a market force, which is not unlike others in its subjection to supply and demand. This shapes genre to respond and produce what people want to see. It is when this is experimented with and broken that films can not only demonstrate artistic freedom but also forge their own genres (such as horror and it’s predecessor, snuff films), which pose the question of whether these are also constructs of analysts. Alternatively, is possible to consider these sub genres as a separate construct of artistic liberty from the main overarching ‘genres’. It is when a film breaks these film conventions of genre that it can achieve popularity in the sense of ‘timelessness’, particularly in the way that Hiroshima, Mon Amour forged into the noteworthy genre of French New Wave, thus proposing the concept that genre’s may well be ‘time bound.’ Typically, genre keeps a framework and sense of familiarity within films, allowing them to remain accessible to their audience. Perhaps relying solely on the well-executed technique of Renais in the experimentation that is Hiroshima, Mon Amour, this film sways away from this concept through it’s genre convention flouting and leading it into dangerous territory of not being understood nor accepted by a mainstream audience.

It has been proposed that there are a set amount of stories, and that writers work around these and all come back to the essential story. This suggests that genres can still categorise films despite their straying from the traditional methods. Although Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a film of unparalleled production technique and mystery, it paints a timeless narrative of a man and a woman having a brief affair and falling for a forbidden love which is entwined with their own personal issues. This is also evident through its inclusions of the war genre’s authentic imagery and comment on the conflict, and the drama genre’s suspense and psychological insecurity. This demonstrates how themes, characteristics and film aesthetics can be filtered out films and then characterised into particular genres.

However, these genres cannot provide an accurate synopsis or comprehension of all themes that arise within the film, and can potentially have an observer miss the true meaning or desired contention behind the film’s creation to a lack of classification in thematic territory that is yet to be explored. The exploration of memory, forgetfulness, the human condition and that Hiroshima, Mon Amour exhibits cannot be expressed through its classification in the Drama and Romance genres and arguably does not have a genre that synthesises these key themes at all. Whilst the French New Wave genre attempts provide guidance into where the inimitable camera angles, mis en scene and artistic experimentation are derived and fit into, it does not and cannot encapsulate the insight and questions that Renais puts forward within his film.

Many elements within Hiroshima, Mon Amour are reminiscent of Michael Curtiz’s 1948 film Casablanca. They share the similarity of belonging to two genres, yet having one genre seeping through more than the other, with Hiroshima, Mon Amour having the greatest adherence to the Romance genre. This mix of genres serves as juxtaposition between two worlds and can humanise the experience within a particular social context. They also afford the ability to tell two stories at once, therefore giving more depth to the film. Hiroshima, Mon Amour told a story demonstrating the horrors of the atomic bomb’s impact of the city of Hiroshima, whilst serving as an important backdrop to the illicit romance between ‘She’ and ‘He’ and their exploration of forgetfulness. The compilation by cinematographers from two sides of the world, France and Japan, afford a collaboration which brings forward contextual skills derived from their respective cultural backgrounds. Whilst considered a new genre born from the Renais experimentation, French New Wave comes across more as a classification. Genres vary in definition greatly and this begs the question of whether it is comparable to consider ‘war’ and ‘romance’ as genres of equal footing with French New Wave. This is very similar to Italian Neorealism and comes back to an adaptation of realism within films and their temporal context. In this sense, if we consider them all actual genres of film, film genres can be both ‘time bound entities’, such as French New Wave, and timeless, such as Romance and War.

French New Wave was representative of a particular time and social context. It made political comment and crossed over rom being just a film into the visual arts entering the humanities sphere. It rejected traditional literary interpretation in film, making a new way of storytelling experimentation and how it can be used as a cinematic art form. This creates a piece of art that is particularly important to contemporary art history and its influence through film as an artistic medium. Hiroshima, Mon Amour was an experiment in film production that worked. The fragmented scenes and non-linear storyline was well executed and work to the benefit of the plot, achieving what Renais desired to achieve. It also synchronised the genres well to complement each other, as the edgy rejection of traditional film techniques portrayed a raw and self-conscious comment on the war post Hiroshima bombing with air of young interpretation afforded by French New Wave elements. This was executed alongside a portrayal of romance and the human psyche. The cinematic conventions of disjointed scene flow feel like a dream, immersing the viewer into the deliberation of what is real and what is imagined.

Genre analysis should merely by a commentary and describe rather than proscribe as it limits the scope for proper analysis and the opportunity to develop new elements such as sub-genres and new perspectives from the film. It is counter-intuitive to be proscriptive especially within the genre of French New Wave as it limits artistic scope and its ability to pave the way for the introduction of new cinematic techniques.

In contrast to the potential limitations, the importance in practicality of genre analysis cannot be overlooked. The classification systems of genres present an easy taxonomy of organisation in order to find related films with ease. In addition to this, the classification within genres can be used as a medium for global reflection. Hiroshima, Mon Amour can be discovered in an accessible methods to a prospective viewer interested in viewing a film with drama, romance or war elements. In addition to this, film can be used as a medium for global reflection. In turn, this ability can consequentially be extended to manipulating means, such as the propaganda films churned out of North Korea, or even the portrayal of the Soviets in the Cold War era in Rocky IV. However, Hiroshima, Mon Amour transgressed past the propaganda and it showed the horrors of war in a neutral light. Through this, there is undoubtedly a trend where film genre is directed by social construct and demand, which then dictates the main constructs of the film. This is said with acknowledgement of Renais’ belonging to the class of ‘Left Bank’ directors aligned with the political left and evidently expressing this through the choice of issue conveyed in film.

Renais was commissioned to make a documentary in order to present something new and unlike what had already been created in relation to the Hiroshima bombing, however he opted for fiction. Through this an important question arises — is documentary a genre? Or is it more appropriate to be labelled as a mode of presenting facts? The comment that Hiroshima, Mon Amour made was deemed inappropriate for American audiences due to sensitivity in their role within the atomic bombing. The contextual relevance demonstrates how the preservation of genre in order to utilise its potential as a historical tool. Hiroshima, Mon Amour allows the viewer to intimately connect to a historical context unlike any other medium. It can portray a political message through the captivation of one’s emotions. This demonstrates how the preservation of genre in order to utilise its potential as a historical tool.

Through demonstrating a romance unlike any other, and drama unlike any other, Hiroshima, Mon Amour provides proof that these genres do not confine, but merely provide a framework to assist with the taxonomy and organisation of the film relative to others. Perhaps the over-saturation of repetitive and revised storylines in Hollywood would incline some critics to argue that film genre is proscriptive, yet it is films that break away from the demand and display un-stunted creativity like Hiroshima, Mon Amour that offer an enduring influence in both society and cinematography.

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