Identifying Bordwell’s Art Film Characteristics in Modern Film

The first characteristic of art film that Bordwell specifies in his essay is its departure from classical narrative mode. He gives the example of Bicycle Thieves where the future of the main characters is not revealed. I think this trait is also present in Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), which very much breaks from the classical narrative structure, never resolving Davis’ issues and not revealing his ultimate fate.

Another characteristic or art film that Bordwell asserts is a lack of defined desires and goals of the characters. The characters slide passively from one situation to another. I think a recent film that certainly has this characteristic is Paterson (2016). The main character, a poet, performs his job as a truck driver and writes poems. We see his relationship with his girlfriend and see him working, but he has no clear desire or goal. He just enjoys writing poetry.

Bordwell also writes that art films often lack the rigid temporal construction of non-art films. There may be a manipulation in the order that the story is told or an unpredictable or unclear time structure. A movie I saw, but did not enjoy, recently was Jackie (2016). In displaying Jackie Kennedy’s experience with the death of her husband, we are presented with many snapshots of her at many points in time and these points are often cut back and forth unpredictably.

And lastly, Bordwell proposes that art films prominently represent the filmmaker themselves. That the viewer watches the film to see the stylistic signature of the director more than the narrative of the film. I think that, quite obviously, Wes Anderson and his films embody that argument today. His distinct style of pans and zooms, insert shots, mise-en-scene, framing, etc. contribute largely to our expectations when watching the films, and satisfy our experience possibly more than the story itself.

I wonder of any other examples that may satisfy these characteristics that Bordwell proposes or any others that he specifies in his writings. I think it is cool how the art film traits that Bordwell examined still continue to show up in even the most recent movies. There is still a similar dichotomy between classical narrative cinema and art film. I wonder what, though, if in any way, that disparity has changed.

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