Real life is boring and unsurprising. Don’t get me wrong—it’s magic and wonderful, too, if you keep your eyes open—but for the most part booooring, and mostly because of the laws of causality and the general predictability of human behavior.
That is a big part of why we like stories. In stories, no one behaves predictably and causality gets flipped. If a man walks across a room and flips a switch and the light comes on, we yawn. But if he does the same thing and the house next door blows up… Wowzah! Something different! A surprise! We humans love that sort of thing.
Hollywood does too, and so in keeping with thousands of years of narrative tradition, our movies become clockwork surprise-machines, twisting and twisting the world we know and expect so that the protagonists (our on-screen avatars) have no choice but to make a choice, and another, which gradually brings them through to a newer, better way of being.
This annoys some people. They look at the plasticity and uniformity of a lot of Hollywood’s offal-ings and they criticize it as the laziness it is. Then they try new, off-the-wall techniques, in an effort to bust things up a bit. When they are through, the critics—who are often also disgusted with creative laziness—come along and snap their fingers in approval, telling everyone else that these new techniques are where it’s at.
Perhaps the most popular of these experimental techniques, currently, is something called “cinema vérité,” which is French for “truthful cinema” (because the best way to legitimate anything in the artsy-fartsy world is to slap it with a French-sounding moniker).
Cinema vérité is not a monolithic endeavor. Filmmaking is a creative field, after all, and creativity cannot abide uniformity. However, roughly speaking it is safe to say that it is a style of filmmaking using techniques like shaky camera work, poor and/or inconsistent lighting, unscripted-sounding dialogue, and confrontational subject matter in order to give the impression that the camera crew just happened to be passing by when the scene occurred (it wasn’t).