Art house is known for being difficult, dark, intelligent cinema “not for everyone.” It is only partly true. Moreover, even for those for whom films are purely entertainment, there is a favorite picture that can be classified as an art house.
In this article, I tell you what art cinema is and whether it is possible to understand it.
What are arthouse movies?
Art house is a movie that is not designed for a broad audience. It is also called independent, festival, non-commercial, elite, or intellectual.
Arthouse directors generally don’t aim for box office success for their films. Instead, they often experiment with mixing genres and innovative filming techniques, imbue films with symbols, and focus the audience’s attention on the films’ social themes or psychological components.
What is considered an arthouse film?
Cinema began to be divided into entertaining and intellectual at the beginning of the 20th century. Then, in the 1950s, cinemas appeared in the United States, showing pre-war Hollywood, foreign, and independent American films – low-budget films made without the help of large film studios. Such establishments are called art houses.
And in 1955, the International Confederation of Arthouse Cinemas CICAE was founded in Paris, which still exists. That is why films that did not fall into the category of mass entertainment cinema began to be called arthouse.
The term “author’s” has a more technical meaning in the film industry. It is understood that the author of a particular film – a person who not only directed it but also produced it, wrote a script for it, chose the actors for the roles himself, and figured out how to advertise it. In general, he was involved in all stages of creating a picture.
Such cinema denies stereotypes and conservative values. In films, as a rule, there are no religious or political taboos or bigotry. In these films, everything is highly natural and real, or vice versa, surreal and absurd.
Art cinema is not intended for the mass audience. It does not express the position of the masses; instead, it reflects the author’s world.
For me, specialty film is a parable. The parable in the cinema appears in an abstract form, without chronological, territorial signs and specific names.
It is difficult to invent a parable; the director must experience and endure some story in himself. It must mature in him. The myth forms a person’s spiritual world, allowing him to realize himself and the world around him.
American film critic David Bordwell says that the main feature of any art film is its dissimilarity to classic Hollywood cinema.
If the plot in Hollywood films always operates according to the formula “cause-effect” or «problem-solution.» Then the art film is distinguished by significant gaps in the plot, where not every “why?” answer is given.
Arthouse tends to be closer to fixing the flow of existence. Hence the boredom that such films often cause. Let us recall, for example, the painting by I. Bergman, “Strawberry Meadow” (1957). Instead of clearly identifying the source of the protagonist’s existential crisis, the author offers the viewer only a series of vague memories and dreams.
In contrast to the non-linear narrative of the art film, where the hero passively slides from one situation to another, the Hollywood film character always rushes in a straight line toward the resolution of the film’s central conflict.
So we just need to understand the Hollywood movie in front of us or not?
In Hollywood, genre boundaries are also violated, and the form of work becomes more complicated. Techniques and expressive means are borrowed from auteur cinema.
For example, the sensational “Joker” by Todd Phillips won a prize at the Venice Film Festival. This film’s line between the audience and the author’s cinema becomes thinner. Todd Phillips works with a loose dramaturgical scheme, as is customary in auteur cinema. He tries to make his film more psychological, trying to understand the internal conflict of his hero, and does not make a happy ending typical of a comic book film.
What is the difference between an art house film and a blockbuster?
In the days of David Griffith, it was customary to divide cinema into auteur and commercial. This division still exists today.
Blockbusters are primarily aimed at the mass audience, high-budget films that have received wide popularity among viewers.
Here the unique role of cinema is manifested, which consists of its high social activity. These movies are about stories and experiences. The viewer can easily self-identify with the hero, begin to empathize with him, and live his story with him. Producers and film companies need such films for profit and for the viewer – for recreation and entertainment.
Bright representatives of the audience cinema are The Dark Knight (2008), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), Harry Potter, Star Wars, Captain America: Civil War (2016), etc.
Art house cinema.
Watching auteur cinema is like reading complex literature, the exact mechanism of perception works. For example, the so-called slow cinema (slow film rhythm, extended frames, average frame speed starting from 35 seconds) is difficult for a person who is used to watching Hollywood editing tapes (as a rule, the average frame length varies from 2 to 10 seconds depending on the genre).
Historically, art cinema develops the language of cinematography, is an adherent of a new vision, and spectator cinema adopts the methods and observations worked out by the author.
In recent years, directors from art cinema have begun to be invited to spectator series. For example, director Andrea Arnold, the owner of several prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, was invited to the TV series Big Little Lies.
It is because the general public, tired of clichés, is becoming more and more prepared for the complicated form of cinematic storytelling. Ten years ago, a person did not have such an opportunity to watch a movie at home as it is today. And now, even the Internet on the phone allows you to download an hour-and-a-half movie. As a result, the viewer’s viewing capacity is growing daily.
Thus, Hollywood movies create popularity among the mass audience and feed the industry with money. In contrast, authorial cinema gropes for development through creative search, which is often unsuccessful and unprofitable but has a chance to become a masterpiece of art.
Good arthouse movie examples are Melancholia (2011), Dogville (2003), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Donnie Darko (2001), The Tree of Life (2011), etc. Also, I wrote a short review about the arthouse film Pi (1998) in the list of the best 16 movies with genius main characters.
How to understand arthouse movies?
1# I recommend watching films presented at world film festivals – Cannes, Berlin, Venice, etc. Most of the movies there is arthouse. To ultimately simplify your task, you can navigate by winners and awards.
2# First, remember that the viewer role can also distinguish an art film from all others. Arthouse requires active viewing, and the same Hollywood blockbuster encourages a passive audience. Arthouse always asks the viewer what they think rather than telling them what to think.
3# Before watching, it would be great to read about the director and his work. Unfortunately, it’s like going to a museum without preparation, and we stare senselessly at incomprehensible paintings.
But it’s better to get to know the artist in advance and the time in which he worked to consider the language of his work.
4# Read professional film critics’ reviews. In the case of an arthouse, spoilers not only do not spoil the impression but often help to understand the picture and pay attention to essential details.
If you are afraid that because of the abundance of theory, you will not be able to distinguish your actual impressions from the opinions of critics, first watch the film and then read about it.
After this, the picture will most likely have to be reviewed again. But it should be so – art requires intellectual work.
Art house cinema has become a robust criterion of knowledge. It created the intellect of cinema and connected philosophy, history, and psychology with cinema.
Search, watch, study – and you will find that auteur cinema can be endlessly exciting and interesting!
Do you have any favorite films that can be classified as arthouse?
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