Not Just to Mimic

Recall our discussion in the introduction of the historical use of narrative to engage with the truth: testimony, confession, celebration or lament and investigation. We might think of Rain as a celebration or ode to the rainstorm and the city, a depiction of the harmony between nature and human culture. It provides the viewer with images of what a rainstorm is like, from many different perspectives, sometimes above the buildings looking down, sometimes from inside a train looking out, sometimes from in the middle of the street or over the canals. When watching Rain, one finds oneself becoming pensive, as memories events or moments in life that were surrounded in some sense by raindrops are called to mind, and the mood becomes very meditative. Ivens here is making a comment on the wonder of the rainstorm in encountering the city. In this way, Ivens can use the language of cinema to get beyond the simple, single-shot actualities of the previous period, and construct a visual poem. He also uses these advanced filmic techniques to craft a plot, and create forward movement in the story. By organizing the footage in terms of a sequence of events, the gathering storm clouds, leading to the people of Amsterdam having to prepare for weather, to the gradual increase in intensity of the rain, finally to the break of the storm and the restoration of sunlight, the film has a clear message: all of these things work together to suggest cooperation between the residents of the city, and that a healthy, flourishing human society can withstand the impact of a storm, and that there is even a kind of beautiful harmony between humans (the city) and nature (the rain storm). Thus by using montage as a narrative technique, Ivens is able to communicate a meaningful message to audiences. It was becoming apparent that borrowing these filmic techniques from the world of fiction films could be effective tools for documentarians, not just to “document” or mimic reality, but to explore.


– from the upcoming book “How to Film the Truth: The Story of Documentary Film As a Spiritual Journey” to be released in the Summer of 2018 by Wipf & Stock