Deleuze on the Novella

In the short chapter from ‘a thousand plateaus’ entitled ‘three novellas, or what happened?’ Deleuze puts forth the fundamental elements of the Novella. That is, whereas the Tale is chiefly concerned with future, or what will happen, the Novella is predominated with what has happened. This is no small thing in the framework of a story, but Deleuze is quick to remind that this does not necessitate a memory of the past. Instead, the Novella “plays upon a fundamental forgetting” and therefore concerns itself in the knowledge which is imperceptible.

What is striking to me about this is the similarity between the Novella and the short film form. To begin with the differences though, the Novella is a legitimate and respected form for writers to produce work, in that it approaches the story in a different way–one which takes on a different narrator, audience, and approach to the story. The short film has the capacity to do the same, yet the short itself is not so much a respected art form as it is a calling card for aspiring filmmakers. Presumably for mostly financial reasons, the short film is an abandoned form for filmmakers who use budgets to produce feature length productions.

Regardless, what is interesting about both Novella and short film is the tendency to have a reveal or twist ending of the knowledge previously unknown. Along with the calling card of young filmmakers comes a productions success at pulling off such a reveal. That is not to say that this typical approach can not be interesting or well done. I think the best shorts still do this, probably precisely for the reasons that Deleuze identifies the success of the Novella.

In addition though, I think there are feature length films that borrow this format of the Novella. Though seemingly not suited for an entire 90min production, an audience can be surprised by an excellent screenplay in this style. I would point to the Linklater film of ten years ago, TAPE. The feature length film (albeit on the shorter side) engages the past and memory, but does so in a way that the real action involves the relevance of the unknown in the present. It is an excellently written film that perfectly balances suspense and dramatic irony. It stands as a premiere example of Novella on screen and a great film. Check it out!

-Colin Nusbaum

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