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What Is Film Language, And Do We Need It?

To produce an evidenced introduction to the language of film.

Language is an essential communication tool, and films are a crucial part of that communication. The language of film transcends both time and location as it creates connections between the old and the new. Films are neither bound by national borders nor the borders of our imagination. They often do not require translation as it is a type of imagery that can be communicated through any language.  (Lu, 2014)

Film is a graphic language that uses visuals to convey narratives. Film language is a technique of building a narrative that effectively tells a story and encourages the growth of the plot. Film languages are crucial filmmaking techniques that contribute to the success of a movie. (Lu, 2014)

The cinematic language employed in narrative cinema is diverse. The diversity in the language has proven that they are all significant techniques that are employed to promote, advertise and express the true story of the film.

Film language, according to Daniel Arijon in his book Grammar of The Film Language, was created when filmmakers realized there was a difference between the haphazard assembly of little images in various stages of motion and the notion that this series of images might be connected. (Arijon, 1976)

Making a movie requires knowing the terminology of cinematography and in order to put each scene in a movie together and capture the essence of the cinema, we need to know and use the elements of film wisely.

The fundamental elements of any good story or film- setting, conflict, character, dialogue, theme, plot, and climax (Chase , 2022)

However, the elements of film language slightly differ. The basic building blocks of a film language- are camera, mise-en-scéne, lighting, sound and music, editing and performance. Each of these elements has various sub-components that work together to tell a story, work together to build the essence of the film language. (Irish Film Institute , 2018)

All these elements can also be known as film grammar, like any other language, it is a part of the language used to tell stories visually. With the help of film grammar, the significance of what is happening will be made clear to the audience.

Film language also contains various other components such as semiotics and rhetoric.

Semiotics is essentially the study of signs; it is a field of study that examines how signs or symbols function in social settings. It plays a vital role in the overall development of the film, not only does it concern the symbols it places within the film, but also the interpretations taking place. (Chandler , 2005)

According to Christian Metz, a French film theorist, semiotic film theory is best recognized for employing semiology to comprehend or organize the film in a way that makes it seem almost like a different language.(Metz, 1974)

As per the semiotic theory, there are certain symbols that we can interpret because of unintentionally acquired cultural information. In film, semiotics can be utilized to convey the desired meaning, which the audience is expected to comprehend given the circumstances. To give the target audience a thorough comprehension of the idea being communicated, filmmakers use visuals and words in a technique known as semiotic storytelling. (Chandler , 2005)

So, while, film semiotics refers to the symbols or elements placed within films, rhetoric is a means of giving these symbols meaning.

Rhetoric used rhetorical devices such as camera range, camera angles, etc., to signify the meaning, tone and emotions felt. Rhetorical choices in film are made on the narrative, visual and audio levels, they help us convey meaning and shape them on each of these levels. (Photinos & Tateishi, 2002)

All these tools together, along with many others form the film language. It is a language that we’ve been taught to understand by watching movies and reading this language visually.

In his book How to Read a Film: Movies, Media, Multimedia, James Monaco questions: "Is learning how to read a film really necessary?" (Monaco, 1977)

He observes that almost anyone with elementary intelligence can understand a film's fundamental ideas and themes without any additional instruction, which leads to his inquiry. However, the issue is that, although movies "so very closely imitate reality," we find it far easier to apprehend them than we do to comprehend them. The visuals in front of us provide us with a plethora of information, yet we frequently accept this information without examining how it was obtained. This happens because people don't understand the mechanics of filmmaking and, implicitly, how it works as a language. In other words, persons who have a strong visual sense, or who are "cinemate," see and hear more clearly than others. (Tecucianu, 2014)

Our eyes, hearing, and brain are all involved in the process, and our brain's ability to interpret information is essentially what determines how well we can understand what we see and hear. The mental experiences we have when "reading" a movie are heavily influenced by our prior knowledge and experience. The conclusion is that the answer is unquestionably yes; learning how to read a film is essential if we want to get past the stage of apprehension. Cinema can masterfully mix the auditory, tactile, and visual senses. Film does not normally suggest, it states. In James Monaco’s words, “the great thing about literature is that you can imagine; the great thing about film is that you can’t.” (Tecucianu, 2014)


Arijon, D., 1976. Grammar of The Film Language. 3rd ed. Uruguay: Silman-James Press.

Chandler , D., 2005. Semiotics for Beginners. - ed. Aberystwyth: University Of Wales .

Chase , N., 2022. What are the 7 Elements of a Story? [Essential and Explained!], -: Neil Chase Films.

Irish Film Institute , 2018. Elements of Film Language. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 11 October 2022].

Lu, T., 2014. The University Of Sydney. [Online] Available at:,they%20make%20a%20film%20successful.[Accessed 11 October 2022].

Metz, C., 1974. Film Language. - ed. -: Oxford University Press.

Monaco, J., 1977. How to Read A Film. Illustrated ed. -: Oxford University Press.

Photinos, C. & Tateishi, R., 2002. Writing Commons. [Online] Available at:,meaning%2C%20tone%2C%20and%20emotions.[Accessed 12 October 2022].

Tecucianu, D., 2014. THE „LANGUAGE” OF CINEMA: FILM „GRAMMAR” AND VISUAL LITERACY. Media Image, 4(3), p. 256.

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