Coffeehouse: 3 Reasons Why “Art Cinema” Is Worth Studying

The Cinema Coffeehouse is Page 85’s new blog series about all things cinema.


What do you think of when I say “international art cinema”? If you’re like me, you probably immediately think ‘French New Wave’ and long takes with monotonous voiceovers.

You probably think that international art cinema is totally random and experimental.

In truth, art cinema of the international nature spanned a wide range of definitions. Basically, if they were international imports that played in New York art house theaters in the ’60s, they constitute as an art film.

But there’s also a set of characteristics that separate “art” cinema from “classical” cinema. Here they are:

  • Ambiguous narrative choices
  • Characters with few discernible character traits
  • Heavy-handed themes and symbolism
  • Experimental dynamics

Rashomon, Bicycle Thieves, and The 400 Blows are three different film movements that are quite different but all fall under the umbrella of “Art Cinema.”

3 Reasons Why “Art Cinema” Is Worth Studying

If you’ve seen any of the above three films, you might exclaim, “Amy! These films break all the rules of screenwriting! They are narratively messy and contradict the kinds of things I’ve been learning about storytelling!”

Yes, they do. Today, we want our narratives to be clear, concise, clever, and surprising — most of which seem to be overthrown by the often slow-moving, vague, and experimental-esque characteristics of art cinema.

Yet, if you look carefully at the above films, you’ll see what they offer.

Reason #1: Art Films Broke Rules

Here are some examples of art films that broke rules and discovered new ways to tell a story:

  • Rashomon pioneered the unreliable-narrator¬†whodunit¬†
  • Bicycle Thieves showed a cyclical journey of a sympathetic character that was emotionally moving and heavily thematic
  • The 400 Blows created a sympathetic character and put him through endless obstacles and structures
  • The opening dream sequence of 8 1/2 proved that experimental sequences could be weaved into narratives

Reason #2: Knowledge is Power

Being aware of the type of films and film movements out there helps you add texture to your narratives. Knowing what came before your work can inspire you and inform your screenplays.

Reason #3: The Art Film Movement was a Movement for a Reason

Most of all, art films were created by innovators, who decided to break the rules and try something different. Innovation should always be studied, especially when the result of such innovation is of such magnitude to create an entire movement.

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