Many confuse the art film with the arthouse film, but there are a few differences. Where does the term “arthouse” come from, and what does it mean for the future of cinema?
Arthouse comes from a time when the major Hollywood studios dominated the cinema. Small arthouse cinemas presented a different program, as a counterpoint to the then-current mainstream taste. It mainly consisted of:
- European Cinema
- Independent Movies
- Old Classic Movies
Sometimes experimental or art films were included, but they were rather rare. The essence of the arthouse film is simply to be different from the mainstream. This did not necessarily involve groundbreaking artistic experiments. The small deviation from the norm was sometimes rebellion enough.
Thus, the arthouse film has always been a gathering place for many different trends, resulting in films with a non-linear narrative structure, such as CITIZEN KANE, RASHOMON, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, ARRIVAL, DONNIE DARKO, L.A. CRASH, or MEMENTO.
Meanwhile, arthouse has long since entered mainstream cinema, which means there is now a mainstream of the arthouse film, consisting of the movement’s smallest common denominator. This mainstream arthouse addresses a supposedly realistic worldview. It can be considered a film genre, essentially revolving around a main character who has failed in the world. Representative contemporary films include IXCANUL, SHAME, LOUDER THAN BOMBS, TONI ERDMANN, or LEERGUT.
Genre and Subgenre
The arthouse mainstream has some subgenres, the best known of which is the Mumblecore. Here we see a delayed coming-of-age story, often featuring a thirty-something who must emancipate himself from his childish values. It is usually just a slice of life with an open ending, inspired by the filmmakers’ autobiographical lives.
The arthouse film was wonderfully parodied by The Simpsons with a short film about the alcoholic Barney Gumble.
Arthouse Film Clichés
Arthouse films have some common clichés that must be avoided in an original story. There are four that appear particularly frequently:
- The film begins with a quote intended to make you think. Often it has little to do with the plot and is just from a well-known person.
- The main character stares into space, mostly out the window. She often smokes and/or drinks alcohol.
- The main character is lying on his side, unable to sleep and staring into emptiness. Optionally with snoring people in the background (in comedies) or alone.
- The main character walks through a lonely area and we follow the back of her head for minutes.
Important tip for writing arthouse films: If you want to write in this genre, autobiographical topics are definitely obvious. In the best case, however, you have already overcome the corresponding problem in your life – because this is the only way to give the film a convincing ending and write a well-rounded story.
If you want to read more, here are some film-related topics: