How do you write a quality film review? The idea of expanding on the process in the form of a post has been going around my head for quite some time. I think this piece will be useful not only to beginners who have ideas but don’t really know where to start from but also to experienced reviewers. I hope all of you will join this conversation and give me some feedback on how my points are useful and whatever else you have in mind that helps you write a good review.
1. Go into the film with a fresh mind. This is a good practice in general if you want to see a film: try to stay away, as much as possible from trailers of it, from people talking about it, from other reviews, from opinions of: “it was good” or “it was bad.”
2. Value your experience above everything. The first and most important element we have is our subjective experience of the film. I want to highlight subjective because, as I stressed in other articles and reviews, the practice of going to the cinema or watching a film is a highly personal one. Every individual brings to the cinema their own subjectivity that will heavily influence some of the key processes of understanding of a film, such as identification with characters, relationship to the cinematic mood, attention span etc… This is the case particularly for films that do not lend themselves to a passive assimilation of information but require thought and effort to an extent. For example if you were to watch the slow paced Solaryis by Tarkovskij after few hours sleep and a hard day at work, you would be prone to dismiss the film as boring due to its lack of narrative drive. However, going back to my initial point, the most substantial and central element you have at your disposal when you set off writing your review is the film itself and your emotional response to it. That initial reaction to the film is a premature and raw one but it is one that you must still value and refer back to when you are writing your review. It is often useful to jot down these early reactions because they will soon morph inside your very head as you think more about the film.
3. Understand and talk about the context in which you saw the film. This follows on from the previous point. To be fair to your audience mention the elements of the context when you saw the film that may have influenced your perception of it: have you seen it at the cinema or at home, did your mood or any of your past experiences play a part in the way you read the cinematic text?
3. Do not talk to anyone about the film straight after you come out from it. An engagement with another viewer and an exchange of ideas will tend to force the other person’s view of the film into yours especially because it is in a very young and premature stage. Therefore give yourself time to process the information you saw and create your own idea of the film.
4. Express your ideas with someone. He/she doesn’t have to have seen the film. You will realise that, by attempting to verbalise your thoughts and by trying to explain them to another person, those very thoughts will take on a clearer, more concrete and substantial form.
5. Think of the film as a whole. I had enough of people saying “the story was ok but the cinematography was amazing!” The film functions as a whole. All the elements that make it up need to function towards that idea of a film as a whole. The cinematography is “good” if it serves the purpose or objective of the film (even a partial one, but one that the film values inside its broader signification). A stupid example could be: if the film attempts to reflect on the pain and suffering of existence, the cinematography should contribute visually towards that objective, the same goes for the dialogue, the lighting etc…
6. Try and pinpoint the objective of the film. Again this is related to the previous observation, but it is vital to make some sense of what the broad and specific objectives of the film are. Every film is made with a purpose, the degree of success of a film depends of the fulfillment of that initial objective (the film’s greatness instead depends on its magnitude).
7. Do not talk in absolute terms. As I mentioned in my first point, your view of the film is a subjective one so other people saw different films to you. You can still have a strong argument but always consider the other viewers’ differing sensibilities when exposing your argument. Ask for debate even once your review is finished: you might change your mind.
8. Tailor the review to the nature of the film you are talking about. A clear example of this is what I attempted to do with my review of Under the Skin – I tried to make a review that was as fragmented as I felt the film itself was. Every film is different so every film deserves a different treatment and presentation. Do not stick to a single format when writing your review (see my friend Jacob and how he decided to include a rant in his latest review of Ubu Roi produced by Cheek by Jowl).
9. Only start writing if you feel strongly about it. I always tend to think that if I do not have a strong opinion about a film, most probably I didn’t fully understand it. Furthermore if you pursue that strong viewpoint your review will naturally come out more focused, stronger and more interesting.
10 The obvious stuff. I will not tell you to make it interesting, well written, easy to read etc… This point is just to round it up to 10 tips…
Thanks for reading,