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Focalization and point of view in fiction film

Many theoreticians believe that only in film the term ’point of view’ ceases to be a metaphor and acquires its true meaning. That may be one of the reasons for frequent mixing of the general term of point of view with certain cinematographic forms, such as point of view shot. The conflict arises from the attempt to incorporate this group of problems into one more general, such as expression (enunciation). In this manner we only reproduce the mess already present in the field of literature: we pose a question as if it were a problem of a ’person’ (voice), when actually it is a question of ’mode’. The author believes that this series of problems could be approached through the idea of focalization as formulated by Gerard Genette. The author analyzes some definitions of point of view (Jacques Aumont, Elena Dagrada), and approves of David Bordwell’s claim that ’all film techniques, even those including a profilmic event, function narratively, building a fantasy world to achieve concrete effects.’
Differentiation between the problem of mode and voice is widely accepted in the analysis of narrative texts. The former refers to regulation of narrative data, the latter to the study of narrative instance. Genette’s term ’focalization’ is an attempt at avoiding visual connotations of the term ’point-of-view’. If we agree that both terms are related to regulation of narrative data, it is clear that these data are not revealed exclusively with the help of perceptive abilities or visual perception of the characters. Even Genette states that information in a story can be regulated ’according to the knowledge they possess, or depending on which part of the story (of the character or a group of characters) it is going to appropriate or at least pretend to appropriate what is omniscient as a vision or a point of view, which apparently, in respect to the story, acquires this or that perspective’. Author describes Genette’s three types of focalization, stressing that criteria for focalization need not necessarily be applicable to the whole story, and may vary in the course of the story.
Some semioticians, like Sol Worth and Robert Odin, developed the idea according to which film by itself does not produce meaning; the observer produces it. Film offers a number of obstacles for reading, which should encourage the viewer to perform a series of additional operations. Generally speaking, all theoreticians agree on the definition of the observer on the basis of competence; the only thing that varies is the importance assigned to both terms. Thus we can study two possibilities: according to the first one we see the observer as a construct of the film or a symbolic structure. Genette’s definition of types of focalization is of limited value when speaking of film. The author elaborates his observations on films like Antonioni’s Blow Up and Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, and points out that since focalization is a question of mode and regulation of narrative data, it is not practical to divide it on terms focalizer/focalized, as some authors do. This reveals interest for the narrative instance — a question not entirely distant to that of the mode, but which should be clearly distinguished from it. The idea of focalization can be applied to a sequence or a unit consisting of at least two shots (and therefore cannot be mistaken with the term point-of-view shot), while the dichotomy focalizer/focalized inevitably leads to a dead end when we attempt to answer the question ’who is focalizing whom?’

Josep LLuís Fecé

The difference between description and narration
Narratology and film story

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