Visual concepts, time and reality

Recognising and describing the formal and content-related structure of a film

The film Run Lola Run consists of different levels of reality and time. In addition to the main plot, which follows Lola and Manni, there are five other levels of reality, which show parallel plots, the future or a review of past events. Each of these complementary time levels has been created in a very specific visual way. While only the scenes with Lola and Manni were shot on 35mm film, all the others were video recordings, which are slightly blurred by the use of hand cameras.

In our everyday life we perceive time in a linear way. Past events lie in the past, now is the present and the future is what follows. Films usually deviate from our concept of time, because only in very few films does the duration of the film (the narrative time) correspond to the narrated time, i.e. the period of time the narrated story covers.

With the introduction of montage techniques from the 1910s onwards, it became common practice to break up the consistent progress of narrative time and narrated time. Filmmakers began to interrupt the flow of time by no longer telling stories in chronological order, introducing flashbacks or previews, or omitting passages by means of time jumps (ellipses). Time could now also be accelerated or stretched, for example by using fast motion or slow motion for dramatic effects.
Flashbacks in a film take us back in time during the narrative. Usually the chronological narrative flow is interrupted and a stylistic device indicates that the following events are from the past. The stylistic means of showing this can vary. For example, to make it clear that something "old" is involved, flashbacks can be shown in black and white.
Flash-forwards interrupt the current action and show events that lie in the future. In comparison with flashbacks, a “look into the future” requires much more understanding from the viewer, especially if information is missing which could be used to interpret this “future”, i.e. how those events came about.
An animation consists of a rapid sequence of individual images, similar to a flipbook. The individual images can be drawn by hand or on the computer. The individual images are joined to each other in such a way that the impression of movement is created. In order to achieve the illusion of fluid movement, about 24 individual images are required per film second, with the following image differing only slightly from the previous one.
A characteristic of handheld camera shots is that they often produce slightly jerky images. Because handheld cameras, unlike fixed tripods, allow flexible filming in the middle of the action, they are often used in documentary films. Therefore handheld camera sequences are often combined with a feeling of realism and spontaneity.
Colours in film create moods and guide the interpretation of a shot in a certain direction. Because of their similarity to reality, colour images can reinforce the impression that a film is naturalistic or realistic. However, they can also take on symbolic functions or be used as a dramatic element and thus, as abstract signs, be part of the overall artistic design of a film. The psychological effect of colours can refer to associations that we have with certain ideas. But they can also evoke feelings that are shaped by the subjective perception of the viewer. Associations and feelings that colours create in the viewer are both culturally determined and individually different. They might include:

RED blood, life, fire, destruction, death, power, war, aggression, love, desire
YELLOW lemon – freshness; joy of life – optimism; hatred, jealousy, bright, clear, free
GREEN nature, growth, as face colour: illness, peace, signal colour for ‘go ahead’
BLUE water, sky, cold, melancholy, faithfulness, resistance, passive, calming
White innocence, purity, medicine, in China: mourning
BLACK ashes, death, mourning, power

Task 1

  1. Below are six examples of the different levels of reality. In the space below the pictures, briefly describe how each level is visually represented and comment on what function it fulfils. Also take into account the temporal and spatial dimension of the levels.

Task 2

  1. Try to arrange the different levels of Run Lola Run on the timeline of the film. To do this, generate the appropriate sections and mark them as short or long to represent the time taken in the narrative.
Photo story
Handheld camera
Intermediate world
  1. Summarise the formal structure of the film in writing based on your results from 2a.