The New International Art Film

I don't read online film reviews too often, not because they aren't worth my time, but because I as yet don't have a good mechanism to direct my limited online-reading time to the best use. But I'm glad I read Steven Shaviro's review of Control, in which is embedded this nice pithy genre summary:

There’s a certain international-art-film style that works to convey a sense of desolation through the rigorous avoidance of any interiority. These films are shot mostly in long shots and long takes, with a camera that either remains entirely still, or moves slowly, in order to continually but discreetly reframe. The acting is generally low-affect, or entirely affectless; the plot is sufficiently elliptical, oblique, and estranging, as to prevent us from assigning any motivations, or even emotional qualities, to the characters. There are great films in this style (like the works of Bela Tarr, which make us feel like we are seeing the world in an entirely new way), as well as a lot of less successful ones that come across as strained, pretentious, and desperately arty (I’d prefer not to finger any specific bad examples; anyone who watches lots of international art films will have their own sense of this).

This art-film tendency dovetails with America's contribution to the art film, the independent film. I've previously diagnosed the "cinema of anomie" in makers like Miranda July. It makes me wonder how much a neo-functionalist sociology underpins bourgeois artistic practice across national context in the industrialized West. Shaviro is mostly concerned with aesthetic judgment -and along the way produces a great textual outline of the new international art film. I'm just as interested with the possibility that the cinema of anomie is a political mystification in guise of cultural critique.


I would like to question the view that films which are attempting to map the world in new ways that avoid privileging the interiorized subject are trafficking in desolation (Shaviro) or anomie (Cagle) and are, therefore, ideologically suspect (or functionalist).

In my view, some of the most interesting examples of contemporary film are attempting to move beyond the "cinema of agency," by which I mean a cinema (whether of the left or the right) whose content and structure is ultimately based on the key (but worn-out) premise of modernity: the individual, right-thinking subject will (in the end) emerge as the true motor of history.

This, I think, is where Bela Tarr and Jansco (in his recently DVD release The Red and the Black) are heading; this is also behind the most successful of Gus van Sant's long takes in Elephant; and this is the force of von Trier's Dogville, which can partly be understood as a subversion of cinema's on-going belief in the moral validity of the individualised, first-person perspective. Even the recent blockbuster, The Bourne Ultimatum, is far more interesting for the first hour or so, when it gives us a vision of the world as a complex information grid out of which subject and meaning may emerge, than it is when it reverts to the individualized chase and the assumption that redemption depends on Bourne finding his true identity and aligning it with the few other remaining "right thinkers" (Nicky Parsons, Pamela Landy) in the narrative.

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