Why (and How To) Watch an Art Film

“A Useful Life” by Federico Vieroj

Here’s a question: Why should you watch an art film?

Keep that thought in rotation. Now let’s back up.

Everyone has walked out of a movie at least once (more than once if you’re unlucky) and thought: “That gave me nothing.”  There’s only so much analysis that one can do in this situation.  Questions you can ask: Why did that movie fail to engage me? What was I expecting to be provided with as an audience member? Where did my $10.50 and 2 hours go, exactly?

Wonderful questions: Not to mention difficult, time consuming, and almost impossible to answer.

Why is that? That is because any answer you unearth will ultimately be empty.

We all know that most of what drives the mainstream Hollywood industry is profit. The creation of a big, “tent pole” film sells T-shirts, fast food meal deals, and whatever else.

Now here’s the real answer to your question: You weren’t really supposed to get anything of that movie except empty viewing calories. The sugar rush is over, and now you are about to come down.

So what’s the alternative? I suggest watching an art film. There is a wide definition for what an “art film” is.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Any film that stirs your emotions—anger, sadness, delight—it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a response.
  • Any film with personal conviction. You can almost smell the filmmakers’ commitment to realizing their vision at any cost.
  • Any film that doesn’t feel as processed as a Happy Meal. I appreciate conventionally structured plots and polished filmmaking as much as anyone else. The element I don’t like in most Hollywood movies is cynical manipulation. That’s why it is always refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t just aim for hitting the pocket book, but the soul as well.

Now let’s ask yet another question: How do you watch an art film? That’s very simple: With an open mind. The best way to do this is to throw out any preconceived notions about what a film is.

One of the things that excites me personally about the medium is its endless potential.  Projected images can be used to explore every topic imaginable. Another personal belief: I think that a filmmaker has the same obligation as any artist. That is to say that they need to recognize their own power, and use it to its fullest extent.

Movies can reach a wide ranging audience: filmmakers should make the most of that opportunity.