Fictional film or narrative film is a film that tells a fictional or fictionalized story, event or narrative. In this style of film, believable narratives and characters help convince the audience that the unfolding fiction is real. Lighting and camera movement, among other cinematic elements, have become increasingly important in these films. Great detail goes into the screenplays of narratives, as these films rarely deviate from the predetermined behaviours and lines of the screenplays to maintain a sense of realism. Actors must deliver dialogue and action in a believable way, so as to persuade the audience that the film is real life.
One of the first well-known narratives ever made was Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon in 1902. Most films previous to this had been merely moving images of everyday occurrences, such as L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat by Auguste and Louis Lumière. Méliès was one of the first directors to progress cinematic technology, which paved the way for narratives as style of film. Narrative films have come so far since their introduction that film genres such as comedy or Western films, were, and continue to be introduced as a way to further categorize these films.
Narrative cinema is usually contrasted to films that present information, such as a nature documentary, as well as to some experimental films (works such as Wavelength by Michael Snow, Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov, or films by Chantal Akerman). In some instances pure documentary films, while nonfiction, may nonetheless recount a story. As genres evolve, from fiction film and documentary a hybrid one emerged, docufiction.
Many films are based on real occurrences, however these too fall under the category of a “narrative film” rather than a documentary. This is because films based on real occurrences are not simply footage of the occurrence, but rather hired actors portraying an adjusted, often more dramatic, retelling of the occurrence (such as ”21” by Robert Luketic).
Unlike literary fiction, which is typically based on characters, situations and events that are entirely imaginary/fictional/hypothetical, cinema always has a real referent, called the “pro-filmic,” which encompasses everything existing and done in front of the camera.
Since the emergence of classical Hollywood style in the early 20th century, during which films were selected to be made based on the popularity of the genre, stars, producers, and directors involved, narrative, usually in the form of the feature film, has held dominance in commercial cinema and has become popularly synonymous with “the movies.” Classical, invisible filmmaking (what is often called realist fiction) is central to this popular definition. This key element of this invisible filmmaking lies in continuity editing.
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