Art Cinema By Hamblin, Sarah
Although the term circulates widely in popular and academic discourse, ‘art cinema’ is a notoriously difficult concept to define, conjuring a wide range of associations and assumptions concerning the aesthetics and politics of film practice. At its most basic level, the term is typically used to denote feature-length narratives structured according to a specific set of aesthetic codes that position them in opposition to mainstream films. In this sense, art cinema exists somewhere between commercial and avant-garde cinema, foregoing the tight causal logic of the former in favour of techniques that emphasise stylistic expression, ambiguity, and self-reflexivity, while still remaining within the general sphere of narrative cinema. The term is typically used to signify films—usually made outside the major studios—in which the personal artistic vision of the director takes precedence over narrative intelligibility and marketability. Alongside these formal traits, art cinema is identified through a specific exhibition environment (independent art house theatres, film festivals, and college campuses) that similarly differentiates it from commercial cinema. These non-mainstream qualities, coupled with the challenging nature of the films themselves, have resulted in the common association of art cinema with ‘high art,’ as a body of quality films for a more sophisticated and discerning audience.