This thesis focuses on film-viewing-in-progression (spectature-en-progression), that is, of the film viewers’ active perception and cognition. In fact, the objective is to come back to the original program of semiology — «?understanding how the film is understood?» — in order to study the viewers’ trajectory while watching a narrative fiction film.
The first part of this thesis questions the principles borrowed from structural linguistics by comparative film narratology. On one hand, Benvenist’s analysis of enunciation gives a priori to the narrating authorities, which are presupposed in the understanding of the “order of things in themselves”. On the other hand, Genette’s analysis of the narrative is founded on the story, which refers to a set of already-told events (re)arranged in a chronological sequence. In one case or the other, these methods have left out of the picture both the viewer and his experiential path.
Since it appears difficult to understand “how the film is understood” without giving prominence to the cognitive aspects of the viewers’ activity, the second part of this thesis takes advantage of researches founded in cognitive science. The viewer’s own tendency towards narrative organisation, comprising his or her schematic knowledge, horizon of expectations, mnemonic activity, anticipations and their modes of perception and information processing are then examined. Still in its infancy within the field of film studies, the use of cognitive science’s concepts actualizes and renews our perspective on a film’ reception. The study clearly demonstrates that the understanding of narrative films relies on a vast prerequisite knowledge. Thus, by shifting from an enunciative to a cognitive frame, viewership is defined as an interaction with the movie.
Then, the final part of the thesis follows a theoretical path unexplored by film studies: the notion of play. Because play is without matter and must be acknowledge by the mind, it prolongs the discussions of the second part. Consequently, by making use of the philosophical heritage of play theory (Johan Huizinga, Roger Caillois and Hans-Georg Gadamer), the constitutive principles of play mobilized by narrative cinema are outlined in order to designate – following Gadamer – a film ontology founded upon play. Fictional and narrative films are then considered as game sessions and are divided between two poles: theludus-illinx pole, which favours the gratuitous enjoyment of speed and dizziness, and the ludus-agon pole, which compels the viewer to focus and solve problems as well as to understand the plot. Furthermore, by consenting to partake in the game, the viewer inevitably complies with a system of rules. A system composed of four rules is introduced: the rule of attention, the rule of signification, the rule of configuration and the rule of coherence. Through this regulation, the viewer’s perceptual and cognitive activity is transformed in a pure ludic task.