If you told me to characterise art films, I would say things like unorthodox narrative, strong thematics, lack of popular appeal and heavy use of symbolism. Old news, even for novice film buffs. For a long time, I couldn’t think of anything else. Then, I realised the unorthodox narrative has an affect on (some) art films: lacking visible barriers.
In escapist films, the audience is given straightforward information when a scene is shifting to another one. We are always prepared. Art films don’t do that. They would rather have us get ‘confused’. It feels like we are transported to a completely different universe suddenly. We need to exercise our brains. Even experienced film lovers can get confused. I’ll elaborate.
Art films lack the boundary between the conscious and subconscious, the past and the present. We are brought to from one world to another liberally. The filmmakers only care about the aesthetics they deem suitable. They don’t believe in ‘border patrol’. They don’t think they owe us explanations and clarity. As a result, their works are of ethereal quality (for some of us, at least).
No, this is not surrealism. Surrealism mixes both worlds, ‘disrespecting’ the worldly logic. Every scene in a surrealist film shows them all at the same time. The genre is a reminder our subconsciousness, how it affects our waking life. Even though many art films feel surreal, they actually aren’t.
In non-surrealist ones, the ambiguity makes it difficult to distinguish them. There are no barriers. Transitions between the two worlds do exist. Well, sometimes. When they do exist, they are very abstract and obscure. Objective analyses are always futile. But, subjective ones aren’t.
We, the audience, always try to make our own interpretations based on our metaphysics. In every single one of those exegeses, the distinction between both worlds are a lot more clear-cut. Obviously, none of them are scholarly and universally accepted. But, they work. They contribute to our better understanding of the films. Everything becomes ‘more coherent’ through our personal lenses.
The older I become, the more I appreciate this aspect of films. It does have one practical benefit: it encourages me to be more mentally focused. You cannot let your mind wandering around while watch. If you make an effort in the immersion, I guarantee you would be a lot intellectually rigorous as a person. But, there is another benefit that you probably cannot relate to: the metaphysics.
I am a very introverted person. I love to nest inside my mind. I am so disappointed with the real physical world and my mind is always there as a sanctuary. Either that or I take a refuge in the cyberworld. Obviously, if excessive, they are unhealthy and I would need a help. That’s why art films (and other forms of the arts) help me.
The ethereality is so unworldly, I have only encountered it either in my mind or the cyberworld. It is wonderfully expressed through a fusion of sounds, visuals and movements in such films. Because of them, I don’t have an excuse to be entirely enwrapped by my own world. I also don’t have to worry about getting so obsessed with them. They are not escapist in nature; they would not imprison me from the real world.