The performances seen in films reflect the diversity of cinema practice over time and across the globe. Actors' performances, like the contributions made by other members of a production team, are designed to be consistent with the style of a film as a whole. Most often, they are crafted to convey a director's interpretation of the narrative. Because performances are integral components of specific films—and films themselves differ widely—it is not possible to evaluate individual performances in relation to a fixed standard, such as the expectation that acting in the cinema should be realistic.

Instead, film performances are best understood and assessed by studying work from different time periods, genres, aesthetic movements, production regimes, and national cinemas. This approach prompts one to see that there are several styles of acting in film. Studying various kinds of filmmaking also allows one to see that performance elements are combined with other cinematic elements in many different ways. The range of acting styles and approaches to presenting performance reveal that film acting does not have a single, defining attribute and point to the fact that performance elements are not inert matter given meaning by directors, cinematographers, and editors.

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