Influencing Reality in Film Editing
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Influencing Reality in Film Editing

The film Divines by Uda Benyamina illustrates perfectly the fascinating techniques that can be used by directors to influence the audience's interpretation of reality in film.

Influencing Reality in Film Editing

In the film Divines (Uda Benyamina, 2016), the characters Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena) dream of becoming wealthy enough to leave their impoverished and oppressive lives behind. In order to do so, the two girls become involved with a glamorous drug dealer named Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda), who regales them with tales of her adventures and riches in far away places. As the audience watches the movie, however, a level of ambiguity arises regarding the lives that the two girls dream for themselves and the reality of their actual lives. Various techniques to show sound, location, and time encourages the audience to wonder about how much of the riches and fame that the girls aspire to have is actually realistic and attainable, and how much is only the fabrications of their minds. Benyamina uses many editing and sound techniques are used in Divines to influence how the audience interprets the reality of what the girls are glorifying in their minds and the reality of their situation.

One way that Benaymina invites the audience to question the attainability and reality of Dounia and Maimouna's aspirations comes early in the film when Rebecca returns from her trip to Thailand. The audience sees Rebecca swimming beneath clear blue waves, parasailing amidst a beautiful sunset, enjoying a luxurious bath with an island paradise visible through the window behind her. Each of these shots is overlayed by the musical prayers that the audience has heard in scenes set in the mosque that Maimouna attends with her family. The combination of the serene, colorful scenery and the holy music acts as a sharp contrast for the next shot, which shows that the shots of Rebecca in Thailand are not real-time events, but rather videos shown on a tablet to a group of men shouting and cheering as they watch strippers from Rebecca's trip.

The editing conventions used with shots of Rebecca in Thailand make the shot appear to be occurring in real time rather than on a tablet. The audience is jolted from their immersion in the scenes depicting Rebecca in Thailand because the viewers suddenly realize that those events are not happening in real life, but only on a tablet. The scene encourages the audience to recognize the reality of the distance between what Dounia and Maimouna dream of attaining and where they stand now. The editing between the shots helps to emphasize the tenuous line between reality and the girls' imagination; even in this scene that is focused on Rebecca's achievements, Dounia and Maimouna can only experience those things through artificial means such as the tablet. Dounia listens to Rebecca's plans for her life in Thailand and watches the videos of her holiday there, and is swept up by thoughts of attaining the same wealth and fortunes for herself and Maimouna. The audience, however, has been jarred by the stark contrasts created by the differences between what Rebecca showed in the video and the environment of the next shot of the men howling and cheering, crowded around a tablet in the ruins of the banlieues.

In another scene, less conventional uses of sound and cinematography are used to encourage the audience to wonder at how much of what they are being shown is happening in real life and how much is simply being imagined by Dounia and Maoimouna. In the scene, Dounia begins to narrate the events that will happen to them once they are rich. She mimes climbing into a Ferrari and coaxes Maimouna to do the same. Dounia then imitates the sound of an engine revving, and we watch as the two girls walk around the empty lot. As they do so, the girls hollar in excitement as Dounia pretends to speed up the car, and the non diegetic sounds of a car engine starting up become evident to the audience over the characters' voices, revving in sync with Dounia and Maimouna's pretending. Other nondiegetic sounds enter the scene, such as car horns and a smack as Maimouna pretends to slap the booty of a hot guy they "see". The imagination of the two girls is now being narrated not only by Dounia herself, but also by sounds that are not fidelic to what is happening on screen.

In addition to the sounds not being fidelic, cinematic choices were made that also accentuates the distance from reality that is being shown in the scene. The camera is placed in front of the girls for a close up shot of their shoulders and heads, as though it is a camera placed on the dashboard of their imaginary Ferrari, and we watch as they begin to move around the empty lot. The combination of the camera being placed on a track in front of the girls as they move around the lot and the fact that the motion of the girls in the scene is far too smooth for them to be walking creates the impression that the girls have been put on a track along with the camera. These aspects of the cinematography encourages the viewer to question if the two girls are walking on their own or moving by some other means that is not a part of conventional reality. Thus, the lines between reality and fantasy is called into question, and the audience is lead to wonder about where the boundary between the girls' imaginations and their reality is drawn.

There are two scenes in particular in which the opposite feeling of ambiguity is established through the use of editing and sound techniques. In one scene where Dounia and Maimouna have been tasked by Rebecca to steal gasoline, the two girls take the time to share a joint and discuss their dreams and whether God cares for them. This scene is characterized by the low, natural-looking nighttime lighting and the lack of non-diegetic sound. The only sounds that are notable in this scene are those of Dounia and Maimouna talking to one another. Similar to the sound, the cinematography is also very simple, with the shots focused and still, comprised almost exclusively of eyeline matches and shot-reverse-shots of the girls' faces as they debate whether God is paying attention to them. This scene's simplicity is notable especially in contrast to the other two scenes that have been mentioned, because where those scenes utilized unique editing conventions and sounds that were not fidelic to what we see on screen, this scene is the opposite, and thus has the opposite effects. This scene, with no editing techniques interrupting the audience's sense of time or place, encourages the audience to, instead of questioning what the girls are thinking and saying, rather interpret them and their conversation as being honest and grounded in reality.

A similar scene happens later in the movie after Dounia has stolen the money from Reda. Dounia goes to Maimouna's house, and the two girls lie next to each other and both admit that they are afraid of what comes next. As in the previously discussed scene, this scene occurs at night, and there are simple editing techniques and no nondiegetic noises. The resemblance of the two scenes draws parallels between them and the audience is therefore coaxed to build a connection to link the scenes and liken them to each other. The viewers interpret the previous scene as showing the more vulnerable and honest sides of Dounia and Maimouna. Similarly, this scene leads the audience to understand this as being a very raw moment, unembellished by any extra sounds or complex editing to detract from the audience's ability to focus on the words being exchanged between Dounia and Maimouna.

These techniques all play various roles in encouraging the viewers to wonder at the reality and attainability of what Dounia and Maimouna dream of one day achieving, especially when faced with the contrasts drawn between those dreams and the harshness of what is shown on screen. While we are rooting for the girls to achieve their dreams, we are also aware of the constraints of their reality and the possibility of failure. There is a disconnect between the visuals and the sounds of the scene in the empty lot, and the juxtapositions drawn between the ideal life in Thailand and their life in the Romani banlieues coaxes the audience to doubt that the gap between the two situations could ever be jumped. The scenes that are notable for being simple and straightforward are also scenes in which the girls talk deeply about feelings of isolation, fear, and loss. The simplicity of these scenes can be combined and contrasted the scenes that are more embellished with complex editing and sound choices to encourage viewers to postulate different interpretations and understandings of where the line of reality is drawn in regards to what is and isn't attainable for Dounia and Maimouna.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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